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Holly Bobo: The Trial Day One – Beginning of the Journey’s End


Friends, family, and press all stand in line to enter the Hardin County Courthouse for the Holly Bobo trial
Photo by W. Clay Crook / The Lexington Progress


It is Monday morning, September 11th, at 7:00 a.m. and the parking lot at Justice and Adams is only filled with law enforcement.  The white SUV that carries Zachary Adams is already empty, he has been ushered inside with no fanfare or media.

By 7:15 media from Nashville, Memphis, Jackson, and New York are on the scene, news trucks are raising their dishes and antennae. Even the THP vehicle has a mast raised to twenty feet or so.

Judge McGinley comes to the front and speaks to both teams of attorneys, updating them on some items, including some recent subpoenas.  The courtroom is filled on the right side, but the left side at 9:00 a.m. is still sparse.  Among the seats are some faces from Henderson County.

Securityformed a lined on the west side of the courthouse, towards the river, the metal detector had been moved downstairs.  Procedures were in place for a large crowd, and although the parking lot is full, the courtroom is nowhere near capacity.  The small room has been opened for media, but the single bench in the courtroom is tight.

Reverend Don Franks, of Corinth Baptist Church, greets the Bobo family and friends that are gathered again near the right front of the courtroom.  Among the family is Holly’s cousin, songwriter and singer Whitney Duncan, whose recent song about Holly is being used to raise money for a scholarship in Holly’s name.  She is behind me in line, friendly and talkative, but like everyone else, there is a hint of nervousness behind the expressions.  The beginning of the end of the six year wait in the pursuit of justice for Holly has officially started.  This is the first of two trials.  Zachary Adams’ brother is scheduled next, however, the third defendant, Jason Autry, has taken a plea arrangement from the District’s Attorney’s office.

Finishing with the attorneys, Judge Creed C. McGinley turned to his left, with the audience standing in anticipation.“Mr. Gilkey do you want to open the court?”  “Yes, sir, Your Honor, I do,” Gilkey said with a smile, and turned a solemn face to the court room. “Hear ye hear ye, we now open the circuit court of Hardin County pursuant to adjournment. God bless the United States, the state of Tennessee, the county of Hardin, and this honorable court.”  Judge McGinley, with his signature bow tie, opened his arms to the court and said, with a slight shake of his head, “I always feel like we need to sing the National Anthem or the Star Spangled Banner after an opening like that!”

The charge was then officially read to the fifteen members of the jury.  Twelve are regular jurors, and three are alternates.

The indictments that chief prosecutor, Jennifer Nichols reads are simple, although the legal definitions read to the court are lengthy: Felony first degree murder, especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated rape.

A few more people have entered the courtroom by 9:15 a.m., but the left side of the courtroom is only a quarter or so full.

Judge McGinley turns to the defense and asks “How do you plead?”  “Not guilty of all charges,” was the clipped response.

Zachary Adams is dressed in the same light gray wool blazer from Saturday.  He is more upright in his seat, facing the judge while McGinley speaks to the jury, or looking down at the paper in front of him.  He makes no eye contact with the jury at this point. His jaw lightly reticulates, again as if he has a small bit of gum.

Paul Hagerman stepped to the jurors’ box for the defense.  He undid the top button of his shirt, loosened his tie, and began to speak, his voice quiet and measured. “He bragged, and he almost got away with it.  He bragged…I couldn’t have picked a prettier bitch.”

The trial, from the very beginning, was not one for the faint of heart.

“For three and a half years her family searched, and searched, and searched, hoping beyond hope, to bring Holly home alive,” Hagerman continued.  The jurors followed his steps, back and forth in front of the box, measured, mesmerizing, captivating them with the first overview of the Holly Bobo story.

Blood in the carport, a search through the woods, mysterious scratches, unexplained alibis, and the bragging, the seemingly endless bragging. Hagerman painted a picture – “They rolled up their sleeves and entered a dark world of meth, crime, and death.”

“Zach told Jason, I need your help, I’ve got to get rid of her, I’ve got to get rid of her!” Hagerman then said they had decided on a spot in the Tennessee River.  “They pulled her out of the truck and onto the ground…she made a sound, she was still alive.”  The courtroom stares in shock.

“He walked toward her, she is wrapped in a blanket.” Hagerman says that Jason Autry, about thirty minutes later, watches “Zachary Adams pull back the blanket, and shoot Holly in the head.”  Investigators, Hagerman goes on to say, check everything Autry said with the facts, with other witnesses, other testimony, for verification, for consistency.

Zachary Adams takes brief looks towards Hagerman as he speaks, but remains expressionless.  Judge McGinley calls a recess at 10:09 a.m.

At 10:32 a.m. the recess ended and Jennifer Thompson addressed the jury for the defense.

“Zachary Adams is innocent of the eight charges against him,” Thompson began, “and it is worth repeating again, Zachary Adams is innocent.  He did not kidnap Holly Lynn Bobo, he did not rape Holly Lynn Bobo, he did not rape Holly Lynn Bobo.”  Later she said that Adams did not know and had never met Holly.

“So how did we get here today?” Thompson asked, and begin to recount the case, the search, the interviews, even interviewing psychics who had had dreams of Holly.

“A neighbor, James Barnes, heard a scream that morning, at the Bobo house,” and were investigated by the state, Thompson said, then John Dodd, who had a white pickup truck and a four wheeler in the area. “They followed rumors,” Thompson said.  All the attention was then put into investigator Blake Barnette, and then Jerry and Terry Britt, doing searches and wiretaps.  Jerry Evans lived down the road from Holly was next, Thompson continued, and then Michael Alexander.  Jason Nickle was another, “the searches were a fire hydrant of information.”

“Then one of the most tragic things the state did was to turn their investigation to Clint Bobo,” Thompson said. “All these things came up, and at the end of 2013, it’s been two and half years and they don’t have a firm suspect.”

Thompson looked squarely at the jury and said that an investigator had said that “This was the most expensive and exhaustive investigation in the history of the state of Tennessee.”  And now 2014 is an election year, for sheriff, for the district attorney, and there is no break in the case, Thompson alluded.

“These three names came up that hadn’t been investigated: Jason Autry, Zachary Adams, and Dylan Adams, as well as Victor Dinsmore.”  Dinsmore, according to Thompson, said to look at Adams and his brother. “And his brother is not very smart, if you want to get anywhere on this case, you need to talk to him.”

Thompson continues in a summary that Dylan is then arrested on 120 months on Federal gun charges, that you can’t get probation for, the most amazing thing happens, Dylan pleads to lesser charges and released, but must live with Dennis Benjamin, an officer who is friends with the Bobo family, but is a man not known by Dylan Adams.  Dennis Benjamin later calls 911 and says he has someone in his home that confesses to the murder of Holly Bobo. “But a lot of what Dylan confesses to doesn’t match the evidence,” Thompson recounted.

“Over five hundred items were taken from Zach Adams house,” Thompson then said.  “They seized four cars from the Adams family and went through everything, and all kinds of cell phone information.”  “But the state has a terrible problem in this case, what Dylan confessed to doesn’t match the evidence, and there is no DNA evidence tying him to Holly.”  “Then Jason Autry basically sells his death penalty to the state of Tennessee for his story, which is different from Dylan Autry.”  The case started in January 2014, and Autry comes forward in 2017 with his story, Thompson remarks.  “But he can’t explain all the mysteries of how Holly was kidnapped or held.”

Thompson ends at 11:04 a.m., and the first witness is called by the prosecution, Dana Bobo, Holly’s father.  He spelled his name, gave his original address, and was asked about his children. Bobo was nervous, getting the age of his son, Clint, mixed up, and Nichols allowed him time to gather himself together and restart.  His hair is gray, as well as his goatee, peppered with the dark hair of his youth.  He answers the questions about his life, his work, his wife, and then Holly.  She was born October 12, 1990. He remains calm until Nichols asked about the date that Holly disappeared.  “Do you remember that day?” Nichols asked. “I will always remember that day,” Dana Bobo said, the emotion visibly deep in his eyes and his expression as he answered.

Bobo left Holly money for gas, and told her goodbye and that he loved her, and then he left for work.  He never saw her again.

“I got a phone call from Terri Brumley…that I needed to come home, that Holly had been taken.  I said ‘What!’ And she said again Holly has been taken.” Bobo said as he related the events of that morning.

He went home the back way, the quickest way he knew to get there. “There were fifty or a hundred people, cops and cop cars…the road is a very narrow road and I had to weave in between them and run back to the house.”  He had in mind to find a family member or someone to tell him what had happened.  The first person he saw to talk to was his son, Clint.  “I talked to Clint, left him, and talked to Terri Brumley, then called Karen and talked to her.” He then went in and retrieved his 9 mm Beretta pistol, which he carried while outside. “More and more people kept coming, TBI, FBI, U.S. Marshalls, and a SWAT Team, I remember them coming.”  He remembered later that there was a helicopter that landed on his twenty-three acres. “It was kinda like no one knew what to do.”  Later he told an officer, “If you think that one of us did it, keep ten of you here with us, but the rest of you please go do something.”

A photo of Holly was the first item entered into evidence, and it was placed on an overhead projector so that everyone in the jury could see.  “That is my daughter, Holly Bobo.” Dana said. It seemed that there was a slight quiver of pain, yet pride, in his voice.

Bobo next identified photographs of their home from the time period, which were then entered into evidence.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, and it never seemed more slow than as each piece of basic evidence was presented and entered into the court record, the pauses as the process continued seemed to stretch on and on, the hands of the clock seemingly motionless, as the first photo of the home was cast upon the screen for the jury.  A green laser pointer cast a dot on the photograph as Nichols asked her questions.

Each step in identifying the home, the garage, and the vehicles, led to a point.  His son, Clint, had parked in the garage, the door was down, he usually parked in the open…it was possible that the kidnappers thought Holly was alone the morning of April 13th.

“We search for our daughter, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” for the next seven or eight weeks.  He looked in barns, sheds, abandoned houses, everywhere she possibly might be.  Karen’s phone number was made public and some calls came in trying to help.  A list of calls and locations, and places he searched were turned into TBI. “There came a time, later, where we seemed to have searched everywhere four or five times.” Nichols asked “At what time did you give up hope.”  Bobo’s voice began to break, “About three years into it…they said Holly had been found.”

Nichols finished, and Judge McGinley turned to the defense team.  Thompson consulted with Bill Simmons. “We have no questions for the witness,” she said.  A sigh of relief, and of thanks, seemed to pass around the courtroom.  The time was 11:50 a.m.

Drew Scott was then called as a witness by the prosecution, the young man Holly was seeing.  “Did you love her,” Nichols asked, “Yes I did,” he answered.  “Were you serious,” Nichols asked, “Yes, I was.”  A box was presented to the Judge, a gift that Scott identified as one that he had given Holly the Christmas before she disappeared, a promise ring.  Nichols asked that it be given back to the family, and Judge McGinley had it entered as evidence, but allowed a photograph to be substituted.  The ring was then passed among the jurors.

If Holly was not real to someone in the audience, the gesture may have begun that reality in a way that Holly’s portrait before may not have.  As Holly’s portrait was recast upon the screen, there was a new definition to her features, a sense of sadness in the beauty of her eyes and smile. When they told Scott she was missing, he thought it had to be a bad joke, that someone must be kidding.

Thompson had one question, about a phone number from April 2011, 731-733-3933.  Scott did not recall the number, the defense ended its questioning, and the court was recessed for lunch at 12:01 p.m.

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