SAVANNAH, Tenn. (AP) — A convicted felon pleaded guilty Monday to taking part in the killing of Tennessee nursing student Holly Bobo more than nine years ago, but he is expected to be released soon as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Hardin County Judge C. Creed McGinley sentenced Jason Autry to eight years in prison after Autry pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit murder and facilitation of especially aggravated kidnapping. Autry gets credit for time served in the case and he could be released in the next few days, said his attorney, Michael Scholl.
Autry provided key testimony in the 2017 trial of Zachary Adams, who was found guilty of murder, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape. Adams was sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years.
Adams is appealing his conviction. His brother, John Dylan Adams, also reached a deal with prosecutors. He is serving 35 years in prison.
Bobo was 20 when she vanished from their home in rural Parsons, Tennessee, in April 2011, prompting a massive search of woods, fields and farms in west Tennessee. Her remains were found more than three years later, in September 2014, by two ginseng hunters in woods not far from her home, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Nashville.
The case shook Parsons and the surrounding rural counties, as residents feared that Bobo's killer or killers lived among them.
Ahead of Zachary Adams' trial, Autry's name showed up on a list of witnesses who could get immunity, and he said during questioning that he was testifying because he wanted leniency.
Autry said Adams provided some graphic details when he told Autry that he — along with his brother, John Dylan Adams, and Autry's cousin, Shayne Austin — had raped Bobo. Austin was found dead in an apparent suicide in Florida in February 2015.
Autry told jurors he had been locked up for theft and drug convictions three times before he was jailed in the Bobo case. He acknowledged an addiction to methamphetamine and morphine.
Autry said he'd known Zachary Adams for years. He said he called Adams on the day of Bobo's disappearance to ask Adams for a morphine pill. When Adams called him back, he told Autry that he needed his help.
Autry then went to Austin's trailer, where Adams had driven with Bobo wrapped in a blanket in the back of his pickup truck, Autry said.
Adams and Autry drove to a river and retrieved Bobo's body from the truck, he said. Instead of burying her, they decided to throw her into the river, at a spot under a bridge.
But Bobo made a sound and moved, indicating she was still alive. Adams retrieved a pistol from his truck, Autry said.
Autry then walked around the area to make sure no one was around, he said.
Autry told Adams the area was clear. He then heard a gunshot coming from the location where Adams and Bobo were.
"It sounded like, boom, boom, boom, underneath that bridge. It was just one shot but it echoed," Autry said. "Birds went everywhere, all up under that bridge. Then just dead silence for just a second."
Fearing capture, he and Adams loaded Bobo's body back into the truck and drove away, Autry said.
McGinley, the judge, praised Autry's testimony.
"His testimony was some of the most credible, persuasive testimony I've ever heard given in a courtroom," the judge said Monday.
Bobo's parents were in the courtroom Monday and prosecutor Paul Hagerman said they supported plea deal.
Autry's testimony helped answer important factual questions in the case, the prosecutor said.
"It was a very important piece in getting justice for Holly," Hagerman said.