Judge OKs special prosecutor in case against men charged in Tennessee woman's disappearance


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DECATURVILLE, Tennessee — The complicated case of three men charged in the disappearance of a Tennessee nursing student four years ago will move forward after a judge signed off on the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Circuit Court Judge C. Creed McGinley ruled Wednesday there were no irregularities in the appointment of Jennifer Nichols to handle the criminal case related to the disappearance and slaying of Holly Bobo in Decatur County. It was the first hearing since December in the case, which stalled as the appointment was challenged by lawyers representing Zachary Adams and his brother John Dylan Adams.

McGinley's ruling allows for more hearings to be scheduled in the case, which has seen a highly-publicized dispute between prosecutors and investigators and the suicide of a man once considered a key witness. Meanwhile, defense attorneys have complained that prosecutors and investigators have failed to provide evidence their clients were involved in Bobo's disappearance and death. They have filed motions to have the charges dismissed.

Bobo was 20 when she disappeared from her home in April 2011. Her brother told police he saw a man dressed in camouflage leading her into the woods near her home in Parsons, about 110 miles east of Memphis. Bobo's disappearance and the subsequent lengthy search attracted national attention as authorities distributed posters with her photograph throughout the South. Signs calling for "Justice for Holly Bobo" are still posted along streets in Decatur County.

Last September, authorities said two men searching for ginseng found Bobo's skull in a wooded area not far away from her house.

Zachary Adams has been charged with murder and kidnapping. His brother has been charged with raping Bobo. A third man, Jason Autry, also has been charged with murder and kidnapping. All three men have pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.

Nichols replaces Decatur County District Attorney Matt Stowe, who recused his office from prosecuting the case after a dispute with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation about how the agency was handling the investigation. TBI Director Mark Gwyn — who has said the Bobo investigation has been the most exhaustive and expensive in agency history — had announced he was suspending all work on the case after Stowe accused TBI agents of misconduct. The dispute was resolved after Stowe stepped down.

Jennifer Lynn Thompson, attorney for Zachary Adams, argued Stowe did not specify in his recusal motion his reason for stepping down. Matt Maddox, attorney for John Dylan Adams, said that Nichols already had been helping Stowe before the dust-up with the TBI, and that Stowe's recusal also should apply to her.

McGinley asked Nichols whether she had any conflict with handling the case. She said she did not.

"It occurs to me that you should feel flattered that they're trying as hard as they are trying to have you removed from the case," McGinley told Nichols.

When asked how she felt about the decision to keep Nichols, who has successfully tried death penalty cases in Memphis, Bobo's mother Karen said, "Very pleased with today."

McGinley scheduled a hearing for June 3 to hear more motions, including the motions to dismiss the charges, attorneys said.

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