*Warning: some graphic details contained in this story.
It’s been nearly three months since Holli Jeffcoat, 18, was found murdered in her Lubbock County home. The Lubbock County Medical Examiner said a lethal slit to her throat killed the young woman described as special needs.
The Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office said that whoever killed her burned her body and left her there.
Both her stepfather, James Holland, and her mother, Debi Holland, were both arrested – but not for murder. The charges were instead related to the continuous sexual abuse of both Holli and her sister.
The warrant for Debi’s arrest which happened Friday confirms chilling details about Holli’s death and home environment. The warrant accuses Debi Holland of knowingly causing Holli to be continuously sexually assaulted by James, who was jailed on March 10 for the continuous sexual abuse of Holli’s younger sister.
The Sheriff’s Office
The warrant for Debi’s arrest from the Sheriff’s Office confirms that Holli was found with her uterus removed. It also confirmed that the week before her death, Holli received a pregnancy test which determined she was 12 weeks pregnant.
After Debi’s arrest the Sheriff’s Office was adamant: there are more charges pending, but for the integrity of the case they declined to say what those charges might be. The looming question in this case: why are there are still no charges filed in Holli’s murder?
“It’s important to keep in mind in this particular case that we’ve had an alarming lack of cooperation from all of the family members in helping to solve this particular murder,” said Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe in an exclusive sit-down interview with EverythingLubbock.com
While LCSO anticipates more charges, they said that James and Debi Holland are still the primary suspects in this case.
The Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office has filed search warrants for James and Debi’s phones as well as their Gmail and Facebook records. They say these digital records were important in helping them realize Debi’s involvement in the case, for example, learning that someone using Debi’s account had looked up “incest porn” several times.
“Investigators have run every trap they can, whether it’s electronic means, any bit of evidence we were able to retrieve from the crime scene that day. And as those results have come in, after forensic analysis has been completed on them, we’ve been able to put together a much more thorough picture of what actually occurred,” Rowe explained.
“It’s one of those things where we cross every T and dot every I and when everybody thinks we’ve met every sufficient level and standard, that clearly demonstrates full proof of who did what, then those charges will be filed appropriately and those cases will be prosecuted successfully,” Rowe said. He added, he doesn’t want to rush his investigators in that process and risk compromising the case. Currently LCSO has two full time employees working exclusively on Holli’s case.
The hardest part for them? A lack of cooperation from Holli’s family. As Holli’s younger sister has gone through counseling, she has revealed crucial information which helped lead to James’ and Debi’s arrests. But many other family members refuse to talk, Rowe said. That includes James. The Sheriff says James has not provided any additional information during his time in jail.
“Right from there very beginning, there was a lot of defensiveness about it, a resistance to cooperate whether it would be interviews or producing certain evidence, electronic evidence, anything along those lines,” Rowe said. “So it’s taken the investigators additional time to have to work through and get possession of those things so we can actually see what was going on– at least behind the scenes–and start piecing this together better.”
Rowe said that his employees have worked long hours and under emotionally draining conditions for this case, but he believes his staff is motivated by the goal of bringing justice in this case.
The Sheriff’s Office is hopeful that others with information about this case will come forward.
“None of these things ever occur in a vacuum,” Rowe said. “Somewhere, somebody knows the truth and reality of this stuff, it’s a matter of getting them to come forward and getting these guys that one piece of information they’re waiting on.”
The Department of Family Protective Services
The Sheriff’s Office explained that from the day they found out about the murder, they have been working alongside CPS in this investigation.
Court records demonstrate that Holli’s family experienced “extensive” CPS involvement throughout the years. As Holli turned 18 in May of 2015, her case also fell under the jurisdiction of APS, meaning that multiple branches of the Department of Family and Protective Services have been working on the cases involving her and her sister.
In an interview with EverythingLubbock.com Paul Zimmerman, Media Specialist with the Department of Family and Protective Services said now that Holli is dead, the department’s work in this case is primarily aimed at helping her sister.
“Anytime a child dies, we investigate to see if abuse or neglect was a factor in the death, but really moving forward we can’t do anything for the deceased child,” Zimmerman said. “But our primary concern then would be the safety or welfare of any siblings or any other child living in the home. Right now Holli Jeffcoat’s sibling is in foster care and is receiving all the therapies necessary to deal with this trauma.”
He added that in the final DFPS investigation into Holli’s home-life, the investigation was initially a CPS investigation until officials realized Holli had turned 18.
“I wouldn’t get caught up in the APS part,” Zimmerman advised EverythingLubbock.com during an interview. “Because Holli had just turned 18 and so just because she had turned 18 it had barely transferred over, the bulk of the case is CPS.”
Despite many phone calls, emails, and open records requests, DFPS has been unable to reveal many of the details involving the cases of Holli and her sister because they are bound by federal and state law, Zimmerman said.
As a result, much of what EverythingLubbock.com knows about DFPS involvement in this case comes from court documents. For example, the warrant for Debi’s arrest cited CPS records from a 2008 case in which, after a car accident, Holli was given medical attention and was found to have trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease. A CARE exam performed on Holli found forensic evidence that Holli had experienced sexual trauma. And while a DFPS employee during that investigation asked that James Holland be separated from Debi’s children during the investigation, Debi refused to comply. No one was eventually charged for molesting Holli in that case.
“We want the public to understand that child abuse and neglect is really a public health issue it’s rooted in things like poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues,” Zimmerman explained. “A lot of times abuse and neglect is cyclic in kids, and parents who abuse their kids were oftentimes abused when they were kids.”
Zimmerman said that DFPS budget deficits have had no impact on their investigations.
Zimmerman added that the Office of Child Safety will be conducting a review of Holli’s case but that process could take months .
The Medical Examiner’s Office
The Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office has been also working extensively investigating Holli’s case, under the leadership of Dr. Sridhar Natarajan, Chief Medical Examiner.
Doctor Natarajan explained that he and his team spent a great deal of time at the scene where Holli died, collecting evidence, taking photographs. He confirmed Monday that when his team evaluated Holli’s body, her uterus was missing.
“There is sometimes that idea in those first two days you want to get the maximum amount of information collected. It doesn’t necessarily mean that getting it in the first two days means that in the third day there’s gonna be an answer,” said Dr. Natarajan. Both he and Sheriff Rowe mentioned that many people have misconceptions about investigation timelines thanks to portrayals on TV shows.
“I think we did just about everything we could have done as far as collecting things. Then comes the next task of taking the material and then– bit by bit–analyzing it and making decisions as to what are we gonna do with different information that’s been provided?” Dr. Natarajan said.
Dr. Natarajan said many things about this case are uniquely complicated– from the way Holli died to the things going on with her family behind the scenes. In the Cause and Manner of Death statement his office released regarding Holli’s case, Natarajan’s office said Holli was killed of “sharp force injuries.” When we asked him to clarify what that meant on Friday he responded:
“These are sharp force injuries where the individual’s throat has been cut, so it’s they’re not lacerations which is a blunt trauma thing, but it’s a device that has a sharp edge to it and it’s been placed so it created a lethal event to the neck.”
Dr. Natarajan added that the future legal implications of Holli’s case could be significant, which is why his office is taking meticulous care in this case– as they do with every case– so that they can defend their findings completely in a court of law.
Like the Sheriff’s Office, the Medical Examiner’s Office has sent evidence away for testing, and is still awaiting the results.
“That testing is ongoing and we keep in touch with the individuals we are working with for that testing,” he explained. “Not all that testing takes place within our office. The evidence is collected by us but we also determine where the testing is going to be sent to be evaluated, and that is happening now.”
He added that he believes some of these testing results will be returned to his office within a month or so, but he is not sure whether he will be able to release those results then.
He added that his staff will try to identify a time of death for Holli, but depending on the evidence they may or may not have enough evidence to do so.
Could all this testing take a year or years to complete? Dr. Natarajan doesn’t think so. He believes that his office’s work on the case may be completed in a matter of months.
“At some point all of this will come together and we’ll have the information and the report will get generated. The report will be reviewed by our interior review, and assigned by myself and it will get sent to the District Attorney’s office and other legal entities that may be involved in the case,” he said.
Dr. Natarajan agrees with the Sheriff’s Office: this is a very active case.
“So that’s the good confident feeling on this, it seems like it’s taking forever, it probably tells you there’s a lot of information we are processing, not that we don’t have any information, we just have a lot we’re putting together,” Dr. Natarajan said.
Dr. Natarajan added that this case has been emotionally tough on his staff.
“With Holli Jeffcoat there are a number of reasons about how this could be emotionally overwhelming,” he said. Natarajan explain that his staff debriefs together after working on Holli’s case, because they can’t talk about what they’re working on with people outside their office.
Dr. Natarajan admits that he is more short staffed than he would like to be, he while his staff does their work well, the complexity of cases they’ve seen in the past eight years has increased dramatically. It’s a sentiment the Sheriff’s Office shares, Sheriff Rowe said he’s also noticed a greater intensity of cases as the Lubbock area has grown in population.
Dr. Natarajan also said that most important of all for his staff is prioritizing the quality of their work.
“It’s not a good idea to rush something like this. Because being a little bit slower at coming up with something and getting it right, you could maybe be blamed with, yeah you’re slow. But if you do something and you do it wrong, there is no recovery from that. You’re reminded of that every day when you go into work and when you go into trial,” he said.
An Emotional Road Ahead
The District Attorney’s Office declined to offer a statement for this story, the investigator we spoke with said they would rather wait until the Sheriff’s Office and Medical Examiner’s Office wrap up their investigations.
While officials continue the work of sorting out the facts around Holli’s murder, her friends, family members, and teachers still wrestle with the shock of losing this happy-go-lucky young woman in an unthinkably tragic way.
Holli’s case and the information released so far in the investigation has impacted people in communities across the South Plains. At the 2016 Spring Games for Special Olympics on the South Plains, several hundred Special Olympics Athletes bowed their heads in a moment of silence for Holli, a fellow Special Olympics athlete.
This week EverythingLubbock.com visited the home where Holli Jeffcoat lived and was found killed, the drive down the dirt road along County Road 3200 is isolated, and Holli’s old home sits quietly, with furniture, decorations gone, and the name “Holland” removed from the mailbox.
In Debi Holland’s arrest warrant, a sheriff’s investigator said that Holli’s younger sister told law enforcement about a time when James drove she and Holli to “a place out in the country” where he would have sex with Holli, while her sister waited in the car listening to Holli’s protests.
It’s details like these which seem surreal to Sherrie Ray, Holli’s maternal grandmother. Waiting for this case to unfold has been agonizing for her.
“I’m hurt through it all too, because I’ve been totally left in the dark,” Ray said. She found out about many of the details, from the abuse her granddaughters experienced, to the fact that Holli was pregnant, only after Holli was dead.
It is difficult for her to wrap her mind around the details revealed in her daughter’s warrant.
“This past week I’ve walked around and shook like a skeleton and been in bed for the whole time, but I got to be there for the vigil for Holli,” Ray said.
Friends and family members are holding a vigil for Holli on what would have been her 19th birthday at Wildcat Park on E 6th and Maulberry in Idalou at 9:30 p.m. on May 10. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Court records from last week show that James Holland is scheduled for a bond reduction hearing, also on May 10.