Family grateful police captured accused killer of 8-year-old girl

A six-month manhunt for an accused killer has ended. Police arrested Dhante Jackson in Newark Saturday afternoon.  He’s accused of killiing 8-year-old Sophia Mason who has ties to Hayward, but her body was found at a home Jackson rented in Merced.

In addition to Jackson and Samantha Johnson, there are now three other women under arrest in connection with the death of Mason.  Two are from the Bay Area.

Flanked by a photo of 8-year-old Sophia Mason – as well as those accused of taking her life and helping the alleged killer, law enforcement said suspect Dhante Jackson was not easy to track down.

"Detectives acted on evidence quickly to track Jackson’s location, but he had the help of several people to assist him to elude his capture," said Lt. Joe Perez with the Merced Police Department.

Police say three women helped Jackson evade police.  All of them have been arrested for accessory to murder after the fact: Daberka Johnson from San Jose, Laronna Larkins from Merced and Mayra Gonzalez of Newark.

"During the investigation they (investigators) learned that several of these females had assisted Jackson in eluding capture by providing him with money, shelter, and transportation."   

Melissa Harris is a cousin to Sophia Mason and her mother Samantha Johnson.

Harris says more information will likely be revealed about why women specifically were helping Jackson.

"That to me is really significant and of course we don't know the full extent or the manner of their involvement in how they funded his life while he was on the run. 

But we do have our suspicions, and I know that will all come out," said Harris.

Samantha Johnson, already in custody in connection with her daughter's murder, is cognitively impaired, according to the family.

Police describe her as Dhante Jackson’s girlfriend, but her family questions that label.

"For her to say that was her boyfriend, again this is coming from Samantha and her mental capacity is that of someone who is like 8, 9 or 10-years-old," said Melanie Verlatti, Samantha’s Cousin.  "So, for her to say, it does sound like something she would say that’s her boyfriend, but does she really comprehend what that means."

Harris says she talks to Samantha often and is glad her cousin and other women are safe, away from Jackson now that he’s been arrested.

"Samantha has said to me on the phone, and I can say this, that she had no control of her life, of anything she did, her time, who she could talk to, or even what Sophia did, that Dhante Jackson controlled everything," said Harris.

The family is in the process of filing a lawsuit, accusing The Department of Children and Family Services in Alameda County of mishandling Sophia’s case, allowing her to be taken from extended family and placed in the care of her mother.