Update: 3 women arrested for helping Sophia Mason murder suspect escape police

MERCED — Authorities provided additional grim details in the Sophia Mason homicide case on Sunday, including information about the arrest of three women who helped suspect Dhante Jackson evade capture.

After a statewide search, Dhante Jackson, 34, was arrested on 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 raided his Merced home. Police said family members told them the girl was last seen in December.

His mother and Jackson’s girlfriend, Samantha Johnson, was arrested and charged with murder and child abuse in March. She is in custody in Dublin on previous child abuse charges from 2021.

At a Sunday morning news conference, authorities also confirmed that three female acquaintances were also arrested for helping Jackson evade police for six months.


Raw: Authorities Provide Details of Sophia Mason Murder Arrest

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Police say the three women have been charged with accessory to murder after the fact for providing “money, shelter and transportation” to Jackson.

The arrested women were identified as San Jose resident D’Burkah Johnson, Merced resident Larona Larkin, and Newark resident Myra Guiterrez.

Merced Police Capt. Joe Weiss said the Merced Police Department made the arrest in Newark with assistance from the California Department of Justice’s Special Operations Unit and the Merced Area Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET).

Merced Police Lt. Joe Perez said detectives tracked Jackson’s movements from Merced to the Bay Area, toward Southern California and back to the Bay Area.

More than 20 search warrants were written during the investigation and hundreds of hours were spent analyzing electronic forensic data to track down Jackson from location to location.

Perez also provided some of what he described as “horrifying 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 found.

Along with evidence of continued physical abuse, police say Sophia was malnourished and forced to live in a garden shed and closet at the residence where she was found.

“In my 20 years in law enforcement, this case is the most horrific and disturbing I have seen,” Perez said. “Knowing what this poor little angel went through at the hands of pure evil breaks my heart.”

The cousin of an 8-year-old girl from Hayward who was found murdered and abused spoke on Saturday night about the arrest of a suspect in his case.

“I couldn’t believe it. I feel like it took a while to happen, but I’m so glad they finally got it,” Mason’s cousin Melanie Verlatti said.

“Just knowing he was picked up from Newark, which ironically, Samantha was also picked up from Newark when they got her,” Verlatti added. “So I don’t know if it was around the same circumstances where there was a prostitution ring or what, but I know they’re going to him and he’s got bail set at a million dollars.”

Merced Mayor Matt Serratto said:

Huge credit goes to our police department and our special team, who worked tirelessly and devoted enormous resources to first investigating the case and now locating Mr. Jackson. Now the case is in the hands of our legal system, and we need to let the legal process unfold and trust that it will lead to a fair outcome.

The Hayward Police Department said in a statement to KPIX 5:

While the case is still under investigation, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to the Merced Police Department and the California Department of Justice for their tireless work in bringing this tragic incident closer to a no more towards justice. Our hearts and thoughts remain with the family and loved ones of little Sophia; we cannot imagine your pain as you continue to mourn his loss.

State Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office also announced the arrest:

“Our children must be protected from violence and we must do all we can to protect them. I would like to thank my team members and our law enforcement partners at Merced for their work on this very difficult, and I hope it will bring some measure of comfort to those who loved this young girl to know that those charged with her murder will now have to face these allegations,” Bonta said.

Verlatti described Mason as a bubbly, playful girl who loved her adoptive grandmother, Sylvia Johnson. She raised Mason most of her life.

“Even if we can’t get Sophia back, I feel like Dhante is a piece of the puzzle that helps close this case and at least gives us some resolution as a family, hopefully it’s clear and at the same time. less is telling the truth at this point,” Verlatti said.

Family members said the repeated warnings and pleas for help from child protective services and authorities fell on deaf ears.

“Let it be a lesson that she’s not the only one. We’re sure there are more children who are stuck in a system and not being cared for properly. It wouldn’t have It didn’t have to come to this and we don’t want to come to this for another kid in the future,” Verlatti said. “So if you see or know something is wrong and a kid doesn’t is not supported properly, please, please, please tell the authorities and do it again.”


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