MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A man accused of killing an 8-year-old girl earlier this year in Merced made his first court appearance on Monday.

In a short court appearance over a Zoom call, a judge announced that the arraignment for 34-year-old Dhante Jackson has been postponed until Wednesday, September 14.

The judge explained the arraignment was delayed to give Jackson a chance to hire his own attorney instead of moving forward with a public defender.

Authorities said Jackson was arrested on Saturday afternoon after spending months on the run following the death of 8-year-old Sophia Mason.

Three women accused of helping him elude capture have also been arrested on charges of accessory to homicide after the fact.

Mason was first reported missing to the Hayward Police Department in February, leading officers to question her mother, 30-year-old Samantha Johnson.

Dhante Jackson was taken into custody Saturday, September 10. (Photo: Merced Police Department)

Investigators said Johnson led them to the home where Mason’s body was found inside a bathtub on March 11.

In a press conference held Sunday, Merced Police Lt. Joseph Perez described Mason’s death as the most horrific case he had ever worked on throughout his time in law enforcement.

“In my 20 years of law enforcement, this case is the most disturbing and horrific I’ve seen,” explained Merced Police Lt. Perez. “To know what that poor little angel went through by the hands of pure evil breaks my heart.”

Officials said Mason had been forced to live in a shed outside of Jackson’s home leading up to her death, suffering physical and sexual abuse.

Jackson will remain in custody on a no-bail hold at the Merced County Jail on charges of suspicion of murder in the first degree and willful harm or injury to a child.

Johnson was arrested the day after her young daughter’s body was found and has remained in custody on the same charges as Jackson.