Holly Bobo trial highlights drug problems in rural counties

DECATUR COUNTY, Tenn. — The two remaining defendants charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering Holly Bobo, 20, more than six years ago are expected in court this month.

Dylan Adams and Jason Autry will be there for a status hearing on their cases. Their co-defendant Zach Adams was recently sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the nursing student’s death.

Whether or not you agree with the guilty verdict, there was one reoccurring theme from Adams’ trial that can’t be denied.

Time and time again, as we heard testimony about the kidnap, rape and murder of Bobo, there were stories sprinkled in about drugs in Decatur County.

Miranda Johnson grew up alongside many of the key players in the Bobo case and was closest to defendant Shayne Austin.

“You could ask any person that was in high school when Shayne was, 'What do you remember about Shayne?' And they would say, 'He was always happy, he was always smiling, kind of just a goof ball,'" she said.

Shayne's mother said his drug habit started when he was around 16 years old and ended in a motel room two years ago.

“We were in the process of going to rescue him and we got down there and he was dead," said his mother Rita Austin. "He was in his room locked in and he was dead.”

Many have speculated about his alleged suicide, but no one’s questioned his addiction.

“I’ve seen it firsthand, drugs having a way of changing a person from somebody who is kindhearted and just a great person to someone who is something totally opposite," said Johnson.

Johnson says one of her loved ones used to get busted for drugs with Adams and the other defendants.

She knows the role addiction can play in a family and the many people it affects.

“Horrible things happen because of the size of the drug community here," said Johnson.

Lisa Brown, a former addict, now works as a program director at a drug rehabilitation center. She says meth seems more potent and popular these days.

“The drug abuse is everywhere, but it seems like in Decatur County it’s more prevalent than it is in our other counties," said Brown, who works at Teen Challenge Lifeline.

Last year, Tennessee had more than 1,600 overdose deaths.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents say they see the problem everywhere.

“TBI’s objective is not to put drug users in jail or prison, our objective is to put drug traffickers in prison," said T.J. Jordan with TBI.

Jordan says the number of domestic meth labs has gone down significantly in Tennessee in the past decade, but he says now “Mexican Ice” is more popular: meth produced in super-labs mainly based in Mexico.

These super-labs are keeping meth just as alive, if not more, in our communities.

“We have limited resources in the drug division to be able to go out there and combat these issues that we have to, to make this state a safer, better state for the citizens," said Jordan.

Jordan says agents try to stay one step ahead of drug abuse but are also hopeful about a new legislative task force recommendation. It would give TBI 25 new agents next year to tackle the opioid epidemic.

“We’re excited about that and we have some strategies we’re wanting to employ," said Jordan.

However, rehab workers think more court involvement would also make a difference.

“If they can court order the people into our programs, the more likely they are to get help," said Brown.

As for those already in jail, Pastor Keith Kirk visits them three times a week in Decatur County.

“We just try to keep our presence there to let these guys know somebody cares," said Pastor Kirk.

He says inmates tell stories of getting high at a young age and relying on money that comes from selling.

“When they get out, they just kind of gravitate back to that because they have nothing else to go to or look to," said Pastor Kirk.

He urges more churches and community members to help fight what he calls a continually growing problem.

TBI agents ask for all parents to talk to their kids about drug abuse.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, you can call the Tennessee REDLINE at 1-800-889-9789.