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Emotional trial in case of slain Tennessee woman to begin

FILE -- In this Dec. 17, 2014 file photo, Zachary Adams, center, talks with his attorney after a hearing in Decaturville, Tenn. Adams is charged with the 2011 kidnap and murder of nursing student Holly Bobo. On Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, Adams goes to trial for the murder, rape and kidnapping of Bobo, in a case that has gained national attention and shaken a small town to its core. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
September 08, 2017 - 1:44 PM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - No one in the pastoral Tennessee town of Parsons will forget April 13, 2011.

That was the day Clint Bobo told law enforcement he saw a man dressed in hunting camouflage lead his 20-year-old sister, Holly, into the woods that loomed beside their house.

The disappearance of Bobo, a talented, church-going nursing student everyone seemed to like, transformed the peaceful Decatur County town of about 2,400 people into a panicked whirlwind. Despite an intense search, it was three years before the hunt ended in tragedy when her remains were found in woods near her home. Hope among Parsons' residents turned into pain.

Then they began to seek justice.

On Monday, the long nightmare takes one more step toward resolution. Opening statements are scheduled in the trial of Zachary Adams, one of three men charged with Bobo's kidnapping, rape and murder. The trial is expected to reveal new information about Bobo's disappearance and death. Details of what prosecutors think happened have not emerged, and Adams' attorney has provided few details on what defence might be offered.

Adams, who lives in Decatur County, has pleaded not guilty, as have the other two men — Jason Autry and Adams' brother, John Dylan Adams — who also face kidnapping, rape and murder charges. Their trials have not yet been scheduled.

Adams, who served six months in jail for shooting his mother in the knee in 2004 with a handgun, faces the death penalty if convicted at a trial that caps an investigation Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn has called the most exhaustive and expensive his agency ever conducted.

Yet, it was two men looking for ginseng who found Bobo's remains, not the TBI.

Friction between investigators and prosecutors has surfaced periodically. In December 2014 — after Bobo's remains had been found — the TBI said it was suspending investigations in the judicial district where the case was being handled amid dispute with District Attorney Matt Stowe. At the time, Gwyn said Stowe attacked the TBI's work and that Stowe alleged misconduct by the agency. Stowe, an elected official, denied he asked the TBI to suspend investigations in the district. A day later, the TBI resumed its work there.

Stowe stepped aside for a special prosecutor, Jennifer Nichols of the Shelby County district attorney's office in Memphis, 200 miles from where the trial is being held. Seeking an unbiased jury, Judge C. Creed McGinley has moved the trial from the county seat of Decaturville to Savannah, in neighbouring Hardin County.

Lawyers' travel costs, plus the years of effort by the TBI, have likely raised the cost for taxpayers. Intense national interest has put added pressure on the state, said Patrick Baker, a law professor at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

"If the defendants are not convicted and they're found not guilty, there's always going to be a shadow looming over this," Baker said.

Key evidence could come from a voice from the dead.

Shayne Austin, a friend of Adams' who was interviewed by investigators and was once considered an important witness in Bobo's killing, committed suicide in Florida in February 2015. Statements he made have been presented in a pre-trial hearing.

In building their complex case, prosecutors will refer to the day Bobo disappeared. Authorities said they found blood outside of her house, though it has not been revealed whether it was hers. Lawyers have said about 190,000 documents and 4.5 terabytes of information have been assembled as possible evidence.

After Bobo's disappearance, investigators and volunteers scoured the town and the surrounding pastures, barns, flowery fields and dusty back roads. Residents adorned mailboxes, lamp posts and store fronts with pink bows, a symbol of hope and solidarity with the family. Pink became the colour associated with Bobo because she was wearing a pink shirt when she disappeared.

Posters with Bobo's smiling face appeared throughout the South: Truckers even placed them on the back of their rigs.

Almost from the moment of Bobo's disappearance, the case became a cable television sensation. Elizabeth Smart, the Utah woman kidnapped and held captive for nine months when she was 14, visited Bobo's high school in 2012 to tell townspeople to keep faith that Bobo was alive.

As the mystery grew, the town changed. Community members worried that Bobo's kidnapper lived in the area and rubbed elbows with residents at gas stations and grocery stores. Parents feared leaving their teenage children unsupervised. Parsons residents locked their doors for the first time in years.

Some gave up hope of finding her alive. Her family members didn't. They held vigils and sent balloons skyward on the anniversary of her death. Her parents and brother prayed with neighbours and attended every pre-trial hearing.

Steve Farese, a lawyer for the family not involved in the legal proceedings, said attorneys on both sides could be apprehensive after all of the buildup.

"High-profile cases are more efficient because everyone is on their tiptoes," Farese said. "They want to make sure they do everything right and they are on their best behaviour."

Family friend Kelly Allen, owner of Parsons Florist, made the pink bows honouring Bobo. She says it was "very crushing" to hear she was dead.

Now she just wants peace.

"The whole town is just ready for this to be over with, to be put to rest," Allen said.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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