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  • Jim Leach

PHASES of the HOLLY BOBO TRIAL

Updated: Aug 17, 2018

THE DIFFERENT PHASES OF THE HOLLY BOBO TRIAL  9/10/17


Holly Bobo, a beautiful 20 year old nursing student, was abducted from her home in rural Decatur County Tennessee in April of 2011. It was said a man dressed in camouflage clothing lead her into the woods behind her home. A massive manhunt and investigation ensued. Volunteers from several states searched for Holly for many weeks with no success.


In September of 2014 her skeletal remains were discovered a few miles from where she was abducted. Three men were charged with her abduction and murder. Several people have been granted immunity and it is assumed they will provide testimony for the prosecution. On Memorial Day weekend of 2017 a gun was recovered and authorities indicate they will connect it to the crime.


The prosecution says they will introduce many items of evidence in the trial and they have requested 200 subpoenas for possible witnesses. The defense has said their case should take about a week to present. This is a death penalty case which means if the defendant is convicted, there will be a separate hearing to determine what the punishment will be. The jury will have to decide between a life sentence with possibility of parole, a life sentence without the possibility of parole, or death by execution.


The defendant in this trial is Zach Adams.


Jury selection took place on Saturday September 9th. During this phase the judge and attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense had the opportunity to question potential jurors. Their aim was to pick jurors who can be fair and impartial and will reach their decision based solely on the evidence presented in court. If close attention is paid to the questions the lawyers asked, we may begin to get an idea of the theory each side will try and prove during the trial. 15 jurors were picked to hear the case, including 12 primary jurors and 3 alternates. An alternate listens to the case, just like those who are sitting on the jury and an alternate may be placed on the jury should one of the jurors to be excused for some reason.


Opening arguments from each side are scheduled to be made to the jury on Monday the 11th. At this time the attorneys will describe what evidence they plan to introduce during the trial. The prosecution will explain their theory of how Holly was abducted, assaulted, and eventually murdered and how they know the defendant committed these crimes.. The defense attorneys will try and convince the jurors their client did not commit the crimes and may even introduce their own theory of what happened and direct the jury’s attention toward another suspect or some unknown other suspect.


The prosecution will be allowed to present their case first and will introduce whatever physical evidence they may have as well as witness testimony. The defense has the opportunity to challenge the evidence the prosecution introduced. The defense may question such things as the relevance the evidence has to the crime, the chain of custody of the evidence, and any expert testimony concerning tests which were performed on the evidence. The defense also can cross examine all prosecution witnesses and challenge their truthfulness and the integrity of their testimony. Expect the defense to vigorously question the honesty of testimony from accomplices or people who may have been “accessories” (these can be people who aided in the perpetration of the crime but did not directly participate). Testimony from jail inmates and close friends or family members may also come under close scrutiny. We can expect the defense to ask investigators about any other people who were developed as suspects or may have been arrested and released. The defense will want to know what evidence existed to make these people become a suspect and what happened in the investigation that “cleared” them.


The defense will present their case once the prosecution finishes presenting theirs and will go through basically the same process the state (prosecution) went through in the trial’s beginning. The defense can present any evidence they may have as well as witness testimony. The prosecution can challenge anything the defense brings up, just like the defense questioned the state’s case.


Closing arguments are the last phase of the presentment of both side’s case. Remember, in their opening arguments the prosecution and the defense told the jury what they intended to prove. In the closing arguments, they sort of say, “See, I told you I was going to prove my case, and I did it!” They will then proceed to remind the juror’s of evidence and witness testimony that was favorable to their case. The prosecution tells their side first, then the defense presents their version and then finally, the prosecution is allowed to argue their side one last time to the jury. The prosecution has an opportunity to present a summary and address the jury for the last time before they go into their deliberations.

Sometimes there is a little leeway in these arguments. I was testifying as a TBI Agent in a large theft of property case and the defense attorney began describing my testimony to the jury in his closing arguments. After a few minutes, I leaned over and asked another Agent, who was in the courtroom when I testified, if I had said the things the defense attorney said that I had said. My partner said I had not testified to those things (I was pretty sure I hadn’t!). The prosecution lawyers did not object, so the defense attorney got away with lying to the jury about what I said in my testimony! I guess the jury “caught it” because they convicted the guy.


The judge’s charge is the last thing the jury will hear before going into deliberations. The judge will make sure they understand what criminal offenses the defendant is charged with and exactly what it takes to convict the defendant of those particular crimes. In other words, the judge defines the “elements” of the crime or crimes. The judge will also admonish the jurors to base their decision on the evidence they have heard in the trial and nothing else. If any evidence or testimony was not admitted in the trial presentation, it cannot legally be considered by the jurors in their decision.

Jury deliberation is the final phase in deciding the guilt or innocence of the accused person. The men and women of the jury consider all the evidence they have heard that was legally entered into the trial. The judge will have instructed them to disregard anything that they heard or saw that was later ruled inadmissible.


Of course, it is questionable how well the jurors can rule out things they heard from witnesses that was later ruled by the judge to be inadmissible. In one trial I was involved in, the defense called in a person as a character witness for the defendant. Upon cross examination, the prosecution and asked the witness if he had ever seen the defendant do anything “strange”. The witness, trying to be honest, said, “One time I saw him when he ate a cat”. The judge immediately excused the jury and asked them to step out of the courtroom while everyone regained their composure. Even thought the judge did all he could to keep this unexpected testimony from contaminating the jury, it may have stayed in their minds when they were deliberating the case.


Experts often disagree about what can be interpreted by the length of time the jury deliberates or “stays out”. There are many different factors that may influence the time factor and that makes it difficult to make a good interpretation. Some say a short jury deliberation is an indication they believed the prosecution’s case and reached a quick guilty verdict. Other experts say exactly the opposite. Years ago we tried a high law enforcement official and several of his accomplices in federal court. The case was given to the jury at lunchtime. Myself and a FBI Agent and a DEA agent went to lunch together. As we were returning to the courthouse, we could see the windows on the outside of the jury deliberation room and there were jurors looking out the windows and standing up talking to one another. It appeared obvious they were through discussing the case. We felt this was a sign they had reached a not guilty verdict because they had finished so quickly. We were wrong. The jury convicted all 16 defendants on a total of 172 counts.


The sentencing phase takes place if the defendant is convicted of a First Degree Murder charge that carries the death penalty. Simply put, the prosecution will try and convince the jury the convicted killer deserves to be executed by the state and the defense will try and convince the jury that the killer should not be executed. Guilt has already been decided. Both sides can introduce evidence such as prior criminal acts, family history, and religious beliefs. These types of evidence would probably not have been brought out in the initial trial phase. Emotion may play a tremendously large part in hearings of this nature.


If the defendant is sentenced to death, there will automatically be an appeals process that will take years to complete. I gave a deposition in 1995 in the case against Robert Glen Coe and he had been convicted in the early 1980’s. In another death penalty case, I testified in a deposition in federal court in 1993 against Kenneth O’Guinn and he was convicted in the mid 1980’s. Coe was eventually executed and O’Guinn died on death row.


We will be following the Holly Bobo case closely.


Let’s hope that justice is served and our system works as it should.


As the slogan in front of the TBI headquarters in Nashville says, “That Innocence Not Suffer. Nor Guilt Escape”. That sums it up better than anything else I can say.



Jim Leach served as Special Agent in Charge for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. His book, “You Can Tell ME, a simple guide to effective interviewing” can be found at Amazon.com.