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Neighbor charged with murder, rape of Jersey Bridgeman, 6

Benton County Sheriff's Office via AP

Zachary Holly was booked on charges capital murder, kidnapping and residential burglary in the Nov. 20 death of Jersey Bridgeman, 6, in Bentonville, Ark. on Monday.

Zachary Holly, the Arkansas man charged Wednesday with the rape and murder of 6-year-old Jersey Bridgeman, had been babysitting the little girl the night before her disappearance, as he had many times before, according to a court document released after his first hearing Wednesday.

Jersey's death came just months after a high-profile child abuse case in which her father and stepmother, David Bridgeman and Jana Bridgeman, convicted of chaining the girl to a dresser at night. Jana Bridgeman is serving a 12-year prison sentence, plus three years for a probation revocation. David Bridgeman is serving an 18-year prison sentence.


Jersey had since moved in with her mother, DesaRae Bridgeman, and began kindergarten this fall in Bentonville, about 215 miles northwest of Little Rock. They lived next door to Zachary Holly, 28, and his wife Amanda, friends of the family who frequently babysat Jersey and her 2-year-old sister, as they did on Nov. 19, according to interviews described in the affidavit of probable cause released Wednesday.

When DesaRae came home from work at about 11 that night, she went to get the girls, and after she chatted with the Hollys for a few minutes, Zachary carried Jersey to her home, while DesaRae carried the younger sister — and they placed them in the same bed, the document says.

Jersey was reported missing the morning of Nov. 20. Minutes after a search for her began, Jersey's body was discovered in an abandoned house two doors away.

The probable cause document released to the public is heavily redacted, but it reveals that the crime lab in Bentonville worked through the Thanksgiving holiday to develop a DNA profile from sperm cells found on Jersey's body.

Holly called Bentonville police on Nov. 23, according to the affidavit, and later showed up at a station, gave a statement — the details of which are entirely blacked out in the document — and then was booked on charges of capital murder, kidnapping, rape and residential burglary.

In Wednesday's hearing at the First Circuit Court in Bentonville, Ark., he was denied bond, NBC affiliate KARK-TV reported.

 

Bentonville Police Department via AP

Undated photo of Jersey Bridgeman.

One neighbor, Julie Pickard, told The Associated Press Tuesday that Holly wept the day Jersey's body was found. 

"He was crying for a long time," said Pickard.

The fact that Jersey was abused by parental figures and a neighbor is suspected in her death fits into an unfortunate pattern, according to Beverly Engle executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County in Arkansas.

"Ninety-six percent of people who offend on children are people that the child knows. We all have been so trained in the stranger-danger aspect, which certainly does happen, but I think the reality is that’s about 4 percent," said Engle, who interviewed Jersey last year when allegations of abuse against her father and stepmother surfaced.

"Jersey was a precious, adorable child and it is very grieving to know even in the moments before her death what she may have experienced, knowing this person or trusting this person,” Engle said.

'A little old soul': Girl found dead after dad, stepmom jailed

Holly is being held in Benton County Jail, and on Tuesday was attacked by another inmate, jail Capt. Chris Sparks told The AP Wednesday. He said Holly wasn't seriously injured, and that the other inmate, who was in jail on a parole violation, could face charges.

"Obviously this case has gotten a lot of exposure in the media and all the inmates know what he's in for ..." Sparks said. "We're going to do our best to try and keep him safe, just like we do every other inmate."

Holly was not required to speak at the hearing, and KARK reported that he remained silent as his lawyers, including public defender Jay Saxton, asked to review the decision to deny bond.

This article includes reporting by NBC News' Elizabeth Chuck and The Associated Press. 

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