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Mother’s boyfriend arrested in murder of 8-year-old girl found dead in Merced, authorities say

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A man was arrested Saturday in the Bay Area city of Newark on suspicion of murdering an 8-year-old girl whose body was discovered at his home in Merced, ending a months-long search for the suspect, the California attorney general’s office and Merced police announced.

Dhante Jackson has been charged with murder in the killing of Sophia Mason, who authorities say was “forced to live in a shed in Jackson’s yard” and suffered “sexual and physical abuse.”

The girl’s mother, Samantha Johnson, was charged with murder and child abuse in March. Jackson, her 34-year-old boyfriend, was the subject of an arrest warrant and had been on the run for nearly six months when authorities found him hiding in Newark, the attorney general’s office said.

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Sophia was last seen by family in December. She was reported missing to Hayward police in March, authorities said.

Four others — one living in the Bay Area and three in Newark — have been charged with helping Jackson evade arrest. Their names weren’t immediately available.

“The pain of losing a child is unimaginable — especially when that child was a victim of abuse. We grieve with Sophia’s family and loved ones, and acknowledge that she should be here with us now — playing, learning, and growing up,” Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said in a news release, adding that he hopes the arrest “brings some measure of comfort to those who loved this young girl to know that those accused of her murder will now have to face these allegations.”

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