The alleged killer of 8-year-old Sophia Mason appeared in Merced County Superior Court for his arraignment hearing on Wednesday, a little less than two weeks after he was captured following an extensive manhunt.
Dhante Jackson, 34, pleaded not guilty to one count of murder and a second count of child abuse. He is also facing an enhancement for a prior strike offense related a 2010 robbery conviction in Alameda County. If convicted, those charges could put him in prison for life.
After entering his plea, Jackson made a special request to Judge Steve Slocum, asking to be placed in solitary confinement or a one man cell. “Just by myself,” Jackson said to the judge.
Judge Slocum explained to the defendant that where he’s housed isn’t his purview. “I don’t control how the jail classifies individuals,” Slocum told Jackson. “You would have to take that up with the administration of the jail.”
Jackson was then taken away. According to Merced County’s jailhouse database, he is being held without bail at the John Latoracca Correctional Center, which is located in a rural area of the county near the town of El Nido.
The county’s jail system is overseen by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, who hasn’t commented on Jackson’s housing situation.
It’s still unclear whether Jackson has a permanent attorney, as he mentioned during Wednesday’s hearing that he was unable to procure the services of a lawyer from the East Bay. He was represented during Wednesday’s hearing by Merced-based attorney Mark Siegel.
Background on the case
Back in March, Sophia’s body was found inside a bath tub of Jackson’s Merced home on Barclay Way. Merced police located the body after acting on a tip from Hayward police, who had been questioning Sophia’s biological mother Samantha Johnson about the child’s disappearance.
Merced police have said Sophia was the victim of long-term abuse. Details also emerged Jackson may have physically and sexually abused the child prior to her death.
By the time Merced police found her severely malnourished body inside Jackson’s home, police say she had been dead about a month. Investigators believe she was forced to live in a backyard shed or inside of a closet.
Jackson had been on the run after the child’s body was found, until he was finally tracked down earlier this month in Newark, California by Merced police task force and Department of Justice agents.
Along with Jackson, Sophia’s mother Samantha Johnson is charged with murder and is being held without bail.
Also arrested in the case were Daberka Thompson of San Jose, Laronna Larkins of Merced and Mayra Gonzalez of Newark. They are accused of assisting Jackson after he fled, and each faces a charge of accessory to murder after the fact.
Larkins, Gonzalez, and Thompson have bailed out of jail, and have not yet been charged. Merced prosecutors expect charges will be forthcoming, however.
Jackson’s next court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2