DECATURVILLE, Tenn. - A chancery court judge ruled Tuesday that she does not have jurisdiction to preside over a dispute about an immunity agreement in the case of a Tennessee nursing student who disappeared three years ago.
Decatur County Chancellor Carma D. McGee said only a criminal court can decide whether prosecutors can revoke an immunity agreement reached with Shayne Austin, 29. It was part of the investigation in the case of Holly Bobo, who was 20 when she disappeared from her family's rural home near Parsons on April 13, 2011.
Two West Tennessee men, Zachary Adams and Jason Autry, have been charged with murder and kidnapping. Investigators have released little evidence, though they have said that Bobo's body has not been found.
A March 6 agreement granted Austin immunity from various charges, including "all charges arising out of the disposal, destruction, burial, and/or concealment of Holly Bobo's deceased body," court documents show.
The agreement was dependent on Bobo's body being recovered from the place where Austin said it was buried. It also includes a provision to grant Austin immunity for drug-related criminal activity "not to include any drugs administered to Holly Lynn Bobo."
Prosecutors later revoked the agreement with Austin, saying he wasn't truthful or cooperative with them and had not complied with the agreement. Court documents show that prosecutors could now indict Austin in the case.
Austin's lawyer Jake Evans filed a breach of contract lawsuit in chancery court to keep the agreement in place and prevent an indictment against his client. While noting that Austin has not been charged, Evans argued that prosecutors were violating Austin's rights and the state should provide evidence explaining why it revoked the agreement.
"They're asking you to stand back and watch his constitutional rights be trampled," Evans told the judge.
Outside the Decaturville courthouse, Evans said Austin was not involved in Bobo's disappearance.
During the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Scott Sutherland argued McGee had no jurisdiction to keep Austin from being indicted. Sutherland said the district attorney has the discretion to prosecute and charge people, and that power cannot be impeded by the chancery court.
"It's an unreasonable risk to the prosecution of criminal cases," Sutherland said.
McGee said chancery court is not the correct forum to address the immunity agreement.
"Criminal law is outside the jurisdiction of this court," the judge said.
It is not clear whether a hearing will be scheduled in Decatur County Circuit Court on the immunity issue.