Star witness in Holly Bobo murder trial gets 19 years in federal prison in unrelated case

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee man who was granted his freedom after providing key trial testimony in the case of murdered nursing student Holly Bobo has been sentenced to 19 years in federal prison on unrelated federal weapons charges, authorities said Tuesday.

Jason Autry, 49, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge S. Thomas Anderson in Jackson on Monday, according to court records and a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.

Autry had pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a weapon and ammunition after he was arrested in December 2020 when he tried to run away from a sheriff’s deputy in a rural field, where the deputy found a Marlin rifle.

Autry has been convicted of more than 10 prior felonies in state and federal court. He was a star witness in the 2017 trial of Zachary Adams, who was found guilty of murder, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape of Bobo. Adams was sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years.

Bobo was 20 when she vanished from her family’s home in rural Parsons in April 2011, prompting a large-scale search of woods, fields and farms. Her remains were found more than three years later, in September 2014, in woods not far from her home, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Nashville.

The search received national attention, with missing person flyers bearing Bobo’s face distributed in many states and national news outlets focusing on the case.

Autry received leniency and struck a deal with prosecutors in return for his calm, detailed and graphic testimony about Bobo’s kidnapping, rape and killing. Autry said he served as a lookout as Adams fatally shot Bobo under a bridge near a river.

Hardin County Judge C. Creed McGinley sentenced Autry to eight years in state prison after Autry pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit murder and facilitation of especially aggravated kidnapping in the Bobo case. Autry was arrested on the weapons charges just two months after he was released from custody in the Bobo case.

However, his testimony in the Bobo case is now in question after Zachary Adams filed a petition in January asking for his conviction to be overturned, citing statements from Autry that he is recanting what he said on the witness stand.

According to the petition, Autry is claiming he made up the story to avoid spending life in prison. The petition said Autry met with a forensic neuropsychologist in December and admitted that he made the story up after his lawyer told him before the 2017 trial that he was “95% certain of a conviction” of charges in the Bobo case.

Autry said he concocted the entire story in his jail cell before the trial while reviewing discovery evidence. Autry used extensive cellphone data to create a story, the petition says.

“He said he just recreated his day and ‘added Holly to it,’” the petition says.

Adams’ lawyer, Douglas Bates, argued in court June 14 that a hearing to discuss Autry’s recanting as new evidence should be granted. Prosecutors said Adams’ petition should be dismissed without an evidentiary hearing.

A judge's decision is pending.