This undated photo file provided by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, shows Holly Bobo who was last seen April 13, 2013. Bobo was last seen by her brother who said he saw a man in hunting clothes holding his sister and leading her into the woods around the family home outside Parson, Tenn. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation sent out search dogs Thursday April 18, 2013, to look for Bobo after her purse was recently found near her home.
DECATURVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of kidnapping and killing 20-year-old nursing student Holly Bobo, whose highly publicized disappearance happened almost three years ago.
Despite an arrest in the case, there are plenty of questions authorities have yet to answer. What was the connection between the suspect, Zachary Adams, and Bobo? How did she die? And have authorities found her body?
In the days following Adams’ arrest, authorities have been tight-lipped about evidence in the investigation, saying only that it is ongoing.
Adams appeared in a Decatur County courtroom Tuesday and was arraigned on charges of especially aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder. Adams was shackled at the wrists and wore a black and gray striped shirt during the hearing, which lasted less than five minutes. Relatives and friends of Bobo attended the hearing.
Attorney Jennifer Lynn Thompson entered the plea on Adams’ behalf. Circuit Court Judge Charles Creed McGinley asked Adams if he understood the charges, and Adams replied, “Yes, sir.”
Nashville defense attorney David Raybin, a former prosecutor, said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation must have had some sort of break in the case, given the recent flurry of activity, including multiple search warrants. Raybin said prosecutors may have decided charge Adams because they didn’t want the case to get any colder.
“They may have concluded that they will never find a body and the case is not going to get any stronger,” Raybin said. “Witnesses die and evidence evaporates. It could be that it was now or never.”
In Parsons, near where Bobo disappeared in West Tennessee, townspeople were looking for closure.
“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” said Ronda Philpott, who attended the school where Bobo’s mother taught. “At this point in time, it’s believed that Holly’s deceased and the most important thing now is for her poor family to have some peace.”
Prosecutors are considering asking for the death penalty if they get a conviction.
Zachary Adams, center, is led into a courtroom in the Decatur Country Courthouse on Tuesday in Decaturville, Tenn. Adams, accused of abducting and killing nursing student Holly Bobo, was arraigned on charges of kidnapping and murder. He pleaded innocent. Bobo disappeared April 13, 2011, outside her home near Parsons, Tenn.
Adams is the only suspect named by authorities since Bobo disappeared on the morning of April 13, 2011, outside her home near Parsons, about 120 miles northeast of Memphis. Her brother told police that he saw a man dressed in camouflage leading her away into the woods.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, local law enforcement and privately-hired search teams have looked for Bobo over the years. Relatives and friends held out hope that Bobo would be found alive like Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and held captive for nine months when she was 14 in Utah. Smart even spoke at Bobo’s high school in August 2012.
As searchers scoured thick woods, old barns and open fields, townspeople adorned light poles, mailboxes and storefronts with pink bows because Bobo was last seen wearing a pink shirt and carrying a pink purse. Posters announcing a reward could be found throughout Tennessee and in other states, too.
Attention in the case was revived about two weeks ago, when authorities searched property near Adams’ home in the Holladay community, about 15 miles from Bobo’s home. Adams was arrested on a separate aggravated assault charge before his indictment March 5.
Before he was charged with Bobo’s murder, Adams told The Jackson Sun “I’m not the one.”
Adams has a list of prior charges in several West Tennessee jurisdictions, including driving without a license, disorderly conduct, probation violation, drug possession and assault. Records show he served six months in jail for shooting his mother in the knee in 2004 with a handgun. In court documents in that case, his stepfather Joseph King said his family feared for their lives.
“He shot his mother point blank … and is a danger to us and the community and our relatives,” King wrote.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn did not say during last week’s news conference whether Adams knew Bobo. But throughout the investigation, community members worried that the person who took Bobo lived in the area. Parents feared leaving their teenage children unsupervised and residents locked their doors, Philpott said.
Bobo’s family said in a statement after the charges were announced that their faith will give them the strength to see them through the ordeal.
“In the recent days, it feels like everything has come against our hope and it seems that all our trust was shattered,” the statement said.
Outside the courthouse, Memphis attorney Steve Farese said the Bobo family was doing as well as can be expected.
“It will help them if a conviction is had and the facts and circumstances are brought to light,” said Farese, who is representing the family.
Farese said he expects “bits and pieces” of information to be released in coming weeks.
An April 9 status hearing has been set.