BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) — A 6-year-old Arkansas girl who was the victim in an abuse case last year and was found dead this past week in a vacant house in her neighborhood was suffocated and apparently raped, authorities said in a court document released Wednesday.
Jersey Bridgeman died of asphyxia or lack of oxygen, and physical evidence also showed signs of her being sexually assaulted, according to the document.
Zachary Holly, a 28-year-old neighbor accused of killing Jersey, appeared in court Wednesday for the first time since his Monday arrest. Holly, his arm shaking, listened as rape was added to the list of other charges he faces: capital murder, kidnapping and residential burglary.
Holly was ordered held without bond and assigned a public defender. Formal charges will be filed sometime before his next court date, scheduled for Jan. 7.
He didn't say anything to reporters as officers escorted him to and from the courtroom in Bentonville, a community about 215 miles northwest of Little Rock that's best known as the home of Wal-Mart's headquarters.
Jersey's death comes after a short life marred by abuse. Last year, her father, David Bridgeman, and stepmother, Jana Bridgeman, were arrested for chaining her to a dresser in their home in the nearby town of Rogers. David Bridgeman told investigators that he restrained the girl to keep her from getting into medication and other things in the house.
He is serving an 18-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in June to false imprisonment, permitting the abuse of a minor and endangering the welfare of a minor. The stepmother is serving a 12-year sentence, plus three years for a probation revocation, after pleading guilty to the same charges.
Last week, Jersey's body was found in a vacant house adjacent to Holly's and two doors down from where the girl lived with her mother. Investigators have said they believe she was killed earlier that day, Nov. 20.
The night before her body was found, Jersey had been next door, where Holly and his wife, Amanda Holly, would often baby-sit Jersey and her younger sister, according to the court document.
The document said Jersey's mother, DesaRae Bridgeman, told police she went next door to visit the couple after she came home from work around 11 p.m. on Nov. 19.
"Afterwards, Zachary Holly carried Jersey home to DesaRae's house, while DesaRae carried Jersey's younger sister, and they placed the two children in the same bed," Bentonville Detective Sgt. Kris Moffit wrote in the court document.
When DesaRae Bridgeman woke up the next morning, Jersey was missing from the bed where her 2-year-old sister was still sleeping, the court document said.
DesaRae Bridgeman looked around the house and then asked Zachary and Amanda Holly to help her before calling 911 to report Jersey missing, according to the court document.
Police searched the Bridgeman and Holly homes before an officer noticed the back door of a nearby vacant house was open. Officers entered the house and found the girl's body.
During an interview with authorities that day, Zachary Holly denied having anything to do with Jersey's disappearance or death, police said in the court document. They said he was cooperative and agreed to give detectives swabs of his check for DNA tests.
He also agreed to give detectives the clothes he wore the night before Jersey's body was found, according to the court document.
Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson didn't immediately return a phone message left Wednesday. Prosecutor Van Stone and public defender Jay Saxton declined to comment after Holly's hearing.
No one answered the door Tuesday at the mobile home where police say Holly and his wife lived, but Amanda Holly's family issued a statement through a lawyer Wednesday asking for privacy.
"Jersey was a very sweet girl who our children and grandchildren considered their best friend. Because of this, we ask for privacy. The children in our family are not dealing well with the loss of their friend," the family said.
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