‘It’s not right that he’s running.’ Mother of Sophia Mason’s alleged killer speaks

Merced police/Merced Sheriff's Office
·4 min read

The mother of Dhante Jackson says she does not know her son’s whereabouts — as Merced police continue their search for the alleged pedophile and child killer, who remains on the run.

The statements made by Alise Henderson, Jackson’s mother, are among the latest developments in the Sophia Mason case.

Merced police say Jackson and Sophia’s biological mother, Samantha Johnson, are both responsible for the death of the 8-year-old child, whose body was found in the bathroom of Jackson’s Barclay Way home on March 11.

Johnson appeared in court for a hearing on Monday to discuss evidence in the case. But Jackson remains on the run, having a murder warrant out for his arrest since Sophia’s body was found.

The Sun-Star recently reached out to Henderson, to ask about her son’s whereabouts. During the phone conversation, she said. “I truly do not know where my son is and I wish I did…It’s not right that he’s running. I’m not for that at all. I want him to turn himself in.”

The allegations against Jackson are highly disturbing, and Sophia’s death has shocked many in the Merced community. According to court documents, based on Johnson’s statements to police, Sophia was treated with extreme cruelty by Jackson, who allegedly sexually and physically abused the child and kept her in a shed in the back of the house.

Despite the gravity of the allegations against her son, Henderson called him a hard worker who until recently had a job working for a global technology firm in the Bay Area. She also called him a caring dad to his own young son.

In defending her son, Henderson did not have kind words to say about defendant Johnson. Henderson said she believes it was Johnson who killed Sophia while Jackson was away from home.

“My son had everything to lose,” Henderson said. “Samantha, she has nothing. She has nothing to lose but her baby, and she seemed like she thought her daughter was a problem.”

Henderson said she met Johnson, and described her as someone who knew when to “turn it on and turn it off,” she said. “She knew what the hell she was doing,” Henderson said. “Something about her wasn’t right. She was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

Johnson back in court

Meanwhile, Johnson, who is Sophia’s biological mother, was back in Merced County Superior Court on Monday, where attorneys discussed a key piece of evidence in the case: a cell phone belonging to Johnson.

Beth Lee, the attorney representing Johnson, 31, said in court on Monday she requested information about that cell phone from the Merced County District Attorney’s Office and so far, hasn’t received it.

However, prosecuting attorney Katie Gates told the court she didn’t have that information. “There was a cell phone that was searched,” Gates said in court on Monday. “The court sealed the other information the defense is requesting.”

Judge Steven Slocum, who took over the case from Judge Mark Bacciarini on Monday, said it’s not uncommon for law enforcement to seal information found on cell phones. “I have a feeling that’s what happened here,” he said in court.

Johnson appeared in court Monday wearing a yellow jailhouse jumpsuit. She has pleaded not guilty to murder and felony child abuse in Sophia’s death.

Johnson is next scheduled to appear in court for a pre-preliminary hearing on June 8.

Johnson had custody of child

Johnson took custody of her daughter in early 2021, according to Sophia’s family members.

The girl lived with and was raised by extended relatives in the Hayward area from birth until Johnson, who still had legal custody of her daughter, took her away from family to live with her.

The two lived in women’s shelters in Southern California and the Bay Area before coming to live with Jackson at his house in Merced. Relatives rarely saw the girl and believed, from the visible bruises on her body, that she was being abused by Johnson and Jackson.

Then, in March 2022, Johnson called her own mother in Hayward to tell her she wanted to move back into the house she herself had been raised in. Sophia wouldn’t be with her, she said, because she was tired of having a kid and gave her away. The family told the Sun-Star they then called the police and filed a missing person’s report.

Upon learning that Sophia had lived in Jackson’s house in Merced, local police went to his house on Barclay Way and found Sophia’s body in a bathroom. Autopsy results are expected after toxicology results come in, according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Office. Jackson is still on the loose and authorities still don’t know his whereabouts.

Merced police have offered a $3,000 reward for information leading to Jackson’s arrest. He is African-American, 5-feet 11-inches tall, weighs 220 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes.

Anyone with information about his whereabouts is urged to contact Detective John Pinnegar at 209-388-7712 or pinnegarj@cityofmerced.org.