A man who once was promised immunity in the investigation of the death of Tennessee nursing student Holly Bobo has been found dead, his attorney said Monday.
Shayne Austin of Decatur County, Tenn., is believed to have committed suicide out of state "sometime in the past 24-48 hours," said his attorney, Luke Evans. Evans said the man's family called him Monday to inform him of Austin's death, but declined to elaborate on where or how his client died.
Prosecutors had initially promised Austin immunity, his attorney said, but revoked it later, claiming that he had lied to them and threatening to indict him.
Evans says the Austin family is "absolutely devastated at the loss of their son."
"Mr. Austin maintained his innocence throughout the investigation," Evans told The Times on Monday evening. "The state came out and made the baseless allegations they did against Mr. Austin, and he lived with the cloud of those baseless allegations over him. It would have taken a toll on anybody."
Austin was never arrested or charged in connection with the death of 20-year-old Bobo, who disappeared from her Parsons, Tenn., home in 2011. In September, her remains were discovered by two hunters in the thick woods of rural Tennessee.
Prosecutors considered Austin a person "connected to" the murder investigation, said Vince Higgins, spokesman for the Shelby County District Attorney's Office.
Jennifer Nichols, who works for the district attorney, was appointed special prosecutor on the case last month after the original prosecutor recused himself.
Steve Farese, an attorney and spokesman for the Bobo family, said in an email Tuesday that "the Bobo family feels that every life is precious."
"It saddens them that Mr. Austin apparently chose to take his own life rather than take responsibility for any part he may have played in the death of Holly.... They pray for all those affected by Mr. Austin's death while staying firm in their determination to have the guilty parties brought to justice."
In March 2014, shortly after the first suspect was arrested and charged, prosecutors offered Austin immunity in exchange for information leading to the recovery of her body.
The agreement, revealed in court documents filed last year, granted Austin "immunity for all charges arising out of the disposal, destruction, burial and/or concealment of Holly Bobo's deceased body."
Later that month, prosecutors emailed Evans and told him they were revoking Austin's immunity, saying that he had "not been completely truthful, candid, forthcoming or cooperative" in the investigation. "We do not desire to meet with and/or talk with your client, nor do we wish to use him in any capacity as a witness," prosecutors said, according to court documents.
Austin sued the state for breach of contract, and the case was pending at the time of his death, Evans said.
Three men have been arrested in connection with Bobo's disappearance and death. Zachary Adams, 30, and Jason Autry, 40, were charged with murder and kidnapping last year, months before Bobo's remains were found near Adams' family home. In October, John Dylan Adams, the younger brother of Zachary, was charged with two counts of rape. Adams had confessed to sexually assaulting Bobo the day she disappeared, according to prosecutors.
All three have pleaded not guilty. No trial dates have been set.
Two brothers, Jeffrey Kurt Pearcy and Mark Pearcy, were arrested in June on charges of tampering with evidence and being accessories after the fact. Investigators believed they might possess or know about video evidence related to the case. A witness testified that Jeff Pearcy had shown her a video of Bobo tied up and crying, the Jackson Sun reported. Prosecutors later dropped the charges against Mark Pearcy, WBBJ-TV reported.
The 3 1/2-year search for the nursing student became the most exhaustive and expensive in the history of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, according to state officials.
The case has been plagued with delays and some controversy, after emails obtained by WTVF in Tennessee revealed tension between Decatur County Dist. Atty. Matt Stowe and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations. According to the emails, Stowe "felt that TBI had compromised the case" and that they were proceeding "so slowly that the culprits were always one step ahead."
Under pressure to recuse himself, Stowe stepped aside in December and asked the Tennessee District Attorney's Conference to appoint a special prosecutor.