Dhante Jackson, accused of abusing, killing 8-year-old girl in Merced, arrested after months-long 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 that time.

The office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he was finally tracked down and taken into custody in Newark, Calif. on Saturday. It came after a months-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 that time and now faces charges of felony 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 Sophia was forced to live in a metal shed in the backyard of the house and was sexually and physically abused by Jackson.

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

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

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

“We’ve been hoping and praying that he would be caught. You know, we haven’t heard anything the case kind of went cold, we hear that people are looking, but we haven’t got any leads, or we haven’t heard anything, so hearing that they got him and that he’s taken into custody it’s great news, we are so, so glad and so thankful.”

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

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