Zachary Holly, charged with raping and killing six-year-old Bentonville girl Jersey Bridgeman, has been ordered to undergo an evaluation to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial, said Van Stone, Benton County prosecuting attorney.
The forensic evaluation, ordered by Circuit Judge Brad Karren, is to be conducted at the Arkansas State Hospital in Little Rock, Stone said.
The motion was made at the request of his defense attorneys, Kent McLemore and Pat Ayedelott, the prosecuting attorney said.
In addition to determining whether Holly is mentally competent to stand trial, the evaluation also will “determine if he was able to appreciate the criminality of his alleged conduct at the time of the offense,” Stone said.
“That type of evaluation is standard in any death penalty case,” Stone said Tuesday (Feb. 12).
While the evaluation could delay future court proceedings, the law states motions that don’t require a defendant’s personal participation still can be heard by the court, Stone said.
That means Holly’s Feb. 28 pre-trial omnibus hearing, which does not require his participation on some motions, could be heard as scheduled, Stone said.
“However, the judge has the discretion to wait until the State Hospital report is back, and I suspect that is what will happen here, given the seriousness of the case,” Stone said.
Holly’s lawyers filed a motion Jan. 17 seeking a mental evaluation for their client, saying Holly may not be fit to stand trial. The motion also states that Holly’s mental status may affect the case, records show.
Holly remains in the Benton County Jail, charged with capital murder, kidnapping, rape and burglary.
At his Jan. 7 arraignment, Holly pleaded not guilty to the charges. Stone said he will seek the death penalty against Holly in the case.
Benton County Circuit Judge Robin Green gave Holly a pre-trial court date of Feb. 28 in Division 2, where he will appear before Karren. That hearing is set to begin at 8:30 a.m., if it is not delayed by the mental evaluation.
The suspect has been held in Benton County Jail without bond on an order by Judge Green at the November bond hearing.
The Bentonville girl, who was found killed Nov. 20, died of asphyxiation, according to an affidavit of probable cause released by authorities.
Jersey lived at 608 S.E. A St. with her mother, who called the police early in the morning Nov. 20 to report her daughter was missing. Officers found Jersey’s body fewer than 15 minutes later, in a nearby vacant house at 704 S.E. A St.
The probable cause affidavit states Holly and his wife babysat Jersey the night of her death while DesaRae Bridgeman and Bridgeman’s boyfriend were working at a nearby convenience store. Holly later carried Jersey back to her house shortly after DesaRae Bridgeman returned around 11 p.m.. He told police he had nothing to do with Jersey’s death, according to the report.
A swab test on Jersey’s body showed traces of sperm, according to the affidavit. Holly consented to cheek swabs for DNA comparison. He also gave authorities clothes he had worn since going to bed the night of Jersey’s death, the report states.
DesaRae Bridgeman called police at about 6:45 a.m. to report her daughter missing. Jersey and her younger sister shared a bed, but Jersey was nowhere to be seen, the report states. Police estimated her death to have been between midnight and 6:45 a.m.
While on the phone with police, Bridgeman became so upset that she had to hand the phone off to Holly’s wife.
While searching for Jersey, an officer noticed the back door to 704 S.E. A St. was open. Jersey’s body was found minutes later inside the vacant house.