Authorities on Sunday provided additional grim details in the Sophia Mason homicide case, including information on the arrests of three women who helped suspect Dhante Jackson escape capture.
After a statewide search, 34-year-old Dhante Jackson was arrested Saturday for allegedly abusing and murdering 8-year-old Sophia Mason. He had been on the run for six months.
Mason was found dead in a bathtub in March after police searched his Merced home. Police said family members told them the girl was last seen in December.
Her mother and Jackson’s girlfriend, Samantha Johnson, was arrested and charged with murder and child abuse in March. She is in custody in Dublin for prior child abuses charges from 2021.
During a Sunday morning press conference, authorities also confirmed that three female acquaintances were also arrested for helping Jackson elude police for six months.
Police said the three women have been charged with accessory to murder after the fact for providing “money, shelter and transportation” to Jackson.
The women arrested were identified as San Jose resident D’Burkah Johnson, Merced resident Larona Larkin and Newark resident Myra Guiterrez.
Merced Police Captain Joe Weiss said the Merced Police Department made the arrest in Newark with assistance from the California Department of Justice Special Operations Unit and the Merced Area Gang and Narcotic Enforcement Team (MAGNET).
Merced Police Lt. Joe Perez said detectives tracked Jackson’s movements from Merced to the Bay Area, on to Southern California and back to the Bay Area.
Over 20 search warrants were authored during the investigation and hundreds of hours were spent analyzing electronic forensic data to trace Jackson from location to location.
Perez also provided some of what he described as “gruesome details” of the case that detectives uncovered during their investigation.
Perez noted that Sophia had been dead for over a month at the residence when her body was recovered.
In addition to evidence of being subjected to continual physical abuse, police said Sophia was malnourished and forced to live in a backyard shed and a closet at the residence where she was found.
“In my 20 years of law enforcement, this case is the most horrific and disturbing I’ve seen,” said Perez. “To know what that poor little angel went through at the hands of pure evil breaks my heart.”
The cousin of an 8-year-old Hayward girl who was found murdered and abused spoke out Saturday night about the arrest of a suspect in her case.
“I couldn’t believe it. It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but I’m so glad they finally got him,” said Mason’s cousin Melanie Verlatti.
“Just knowing that he was picked up in Newark which ironically, Samantha was also picked up in Newark when they got her,” Verlatti added. “So I don’t know if it was kind of around the same circumstances where there was a prostitution ring going on or what, but I know they go him and he’s got bail set for a million dollars.”
Merced Mayor Matt Serratto said:
Enormous credit goes to our police department and our task force, who have worked tirelessly and devoted tremendous resources first to investigating the case and now to locating Mr. Jackson. Now the case is in the hands of our court system, and we must allow the judicial process to unfold and trust that it will culminate in a just result.
The Hayward Police Department said in a statement to KPIX 5:
While the case is still under investigation, we want to express our deepest gratitude to the Merced Police Department and the California Department of Justice for their tireless work to bring this tragic incident one step closer toward justice being served. Our hearts and thoughts remain with the family and loved ones of little Sophia; we cannot imagine your pain as you continue to mourn her loss.
State attorney general Rob Bonta’s office also announced the arrest:
“Our children should be protected from violence and we must do everything we can to safeguard them. I want to thank the members of my team and our law enforcement partners in Merced for their work on this very difficult case, and hope it brings some measure of comfort to those who loved this young girl to know that those accused of her murder will now have to face these allegations,” said Bonta.
Verlatti described Mason as a bubbly and playful girl who loved her adoptive grandmother, Sylvia Johnson. She raised Mason most of her life.
“Even though we can’t get Sophia back, I feel like getting Dhante is one piece of the puzzle that’s helping to close this case and give us resolution as a family at least, hoping that he’s come clean and at least tell the truth at this point,” said Verlatti.
Family members said repeated warnings and pleas for help with Child Protective Services and the authorities fell on deaf ears.
“Let this be a lesson that she’s not the only one. We’re sure there are more kids out there who are stuck in a system and they’re not being taken care of properly. It shouldn’t have come to this and we don’t want it to come to this for any other child in the future,” said Verlatti. “So if you see or know of anything that isn’t right and a child isn’t being cared for properly please, please, please tell authorities and do it repeatedly.”
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