Tennessee Bureau of Investigation/AP

Shayne Austin, who was given immunity in exchange for information about the 2011 disappearance of the 20-year-old nursing student, apparently took his own life Feb. 23, says his lawyer

February 25, 2015 01:45 PM

A Tennessee man who was named as an initial suspect in the disappearance and death of 20-year-old nursing student Holly Bobo and later, a key witness with immunity, committed suicide on Feb. 23, his lawyer tells PEOPLE.

Until his death, Austin, 30, had maintained that he had nothing to do with Bobo’s disappearance or murder, says his attorney, Luke Evans.

“He provided his full cooperation to the government at every turn and he was absolutely just torn up that he had been included in a group of people that allegedly had something to do with what happened to Holly Bobo,” he says. “I would call it a witch hunt where it appears that the investigators allowed the rumor mill to drive their investigation instead of relying on evidence and facts.”

“After all of that, to have the government continually make threats of charging him – that would have taken a toll on anyone.”

Austin apparently committed suicide on the morning of Feb. 23, in Florida, where he had been working, says Evans. His family “is absolutely devastated at the loss of their son,” he says. “He was a young man with the rest of his life ahead of him.”

“It’s important for people to keep in mind that the Austin family has paid dearly at this point and they are suffering greatly,” he says. “People just need to remember that and extend to them every ounce of kindness and compassion that they have.”

Holly Bobo’s Disappearance

Bobo, a 20-year-old nursing student, vanished without a trace on the morning of April 13, 2011, after a neighbor reportedly heard a scream come from her West Tennessee home.

Bobo’s brother told police that he saw a man dressed in camouflage leading his sister away into the woods. Investigators and volunteers scoured the woods and fields of the town for any trace of her, but were unable to initially find her remains.

More than four years later, on Sept. 7, 2014, two men found Bobo’s remains in a wooded area in rural Decatur County, Tennessee, not far from her home. The property was owned by the family of Zachary Adams, who has been charged with Bobo’s kidnapping and murder, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which is the lead law enforcement agency on the case. Adams has pleaded not guilty.

Jason Autry, who is also facing murder and kidnapping charges in connection with her death, has also pleaded not guilty.

On March 6, 2014, a week after Adams was indicted in the case, Austin signed an agreement with the state saying he would cooperate with authorities in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The state agreed to grant him immunity “for all charges arising out of the disposal, destruction, burial and/or concealment of Holly Bobo’s deceased body, conditioned upon him assisting us in recovering the body of Holly Bobo,” according to court records.

Days after Austin was granted immunity, the state tried to revoke the agreement and “made threats to indict him,” says Evans.

Evans filed a civil breach of contract suit against the state, asking the court to enforce the immunity deal. He also filed a restraining order to prevent the state from trying to indict him further. That case was pending in Decatur County Circuit Court when Austin died.

The state said it revoked the immunity agreement because Austin was not being truthful or fully cooperative, Nashville’s WSMV-TV reported.

Evans says his client did cooperate. “We absolutely took issue with the state’s indication that he was not truthful or cooperative,” he says. “I asked on multiple occasions for them to provide me with anything they felt he had been untruthful about or to give us any indication of how they felt he was uncooperative. I subpoenaed and noticed two TBI agents to deposition in furtherance of the civil action and they did not appear.”

The TBI and the DA’s office had no comment.

For Evans, losing his “client and friend” is “devastating,” he says.” I was absolutely in shock.

“Shayne was a very smart, gentle and loving young man,” he says. “He needs to be remembered for who he was not for some affiliation with this case especially when the state has failed to, at any time, ever corroborate that he ever had anything to do with the disappearance of Holly Bobo.”

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