Dhante Jackson, accused of abusing and killing 8-year-old girl in Merced, arrested after months of manhunt


FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — A man has been arrested, accused of killing 8-year-old Sophia Mason in Merced earlier this year.

Merced Police say Dhante Jackson had been on the run since then.

The office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that he was finally tracked down and taken into custody in Newark, California on Saturday. It came after a month-long search and an investigation led by the Merced Police Department with assistance from the Merced Area Gang and Narcotic Enforcement Team (MAGNET), the DOJ’s Special Operations Unit, the Newark Police Department and the Merced County Sheriff’s Office

Sophia Mason was found dead in a bathtub in early March.

Her mother, 30-year-old Samantha Johnson was taken into custody at the time and is now facing charges of aggravated child abuse and first degree murder. She has pleaded not guilty.

RELATED: Mother of 8-year-old girl found dead in Merced makes first court appearance

In documents from the Merced Police Department’s investigation, obtained by Action News, Johnson claimed she had not seen her child for weeks before the murder.

The documents also allege that Sophia was forced to live in a metal shed in the home’s backyard and was sexually and physically abused by Jackson.

The Merced Police Department says Jackson will be transported back to the Merced County Jail to face charges of murder.

Officers also charged four other suspects, one in Merced and three in the Bay Area, who are suspected of helping Jackson evade arrest.

On Saturday, Action News spoke with Melanie Verlatti, Sophia Mason’s cousin. She said her family was happy to hear about Jackson’s arrest.

“We’ve been hoping and praying that he would be caught. You know, we haven’t heard anything, the case went a little cold, we hear that people are looking, but we haven’t gotten any leads, or we’ve’ I haven’t heard anything, then to hear that they got him and that he’s been taken into custody, that’s great news, we’re so, so happy and so grateful.”

Merced Police say they plan to hold a news conference Sunday morning to discuss the case. We plan to broadcast it live on our ABC30 streaming and digital platforms.

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