Arkansas man guilty of slaying 2 thieves at salvage yard

Posted: November 2, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Tyler Barefield, 35, of Russellville

RUSSELLVILLE -- A Pope County jury found Tyler Barefield guilty of two counts of capital murder Wednesday night in the shooting deaths of two men in his family's scrapyard last year.

Barefield, 36, was charged in the deaths of Aaron Brock and Beau DeWitt, both 22, of Dardanelle, who were fatally shot in September 2016 at the scrapyard Barefield co-owns with his family, according to prosecutors. Their mangled bodies were found in a pile of smashed cars at the scrapyard, U-Pull-It Auto Parts of Russellville, four days after the shooting.

Sentencing is scheduled for today before Pope County Circuit Judge William Pearson.

Barefield's case went to the jury of 10 men and two women shortly after 3 p.m., after more than three hours of closing arguments and six days of testimony.

Jurors hinted at confusion regarding the testimony of a state Crime Laboratory expert who tested whether marks on a bullet and a shell casing matched Barefield's gun. The jury twice asked Pearson in written notes for more information about what the witness said a week ago today. Pearson declined to provide it both times.

Barefield, who was free on an $850,000 bond, could face between six years to life in prison, according to sentencing guidelines. His bond was revoked, and he was taken into custody after the announcement of verdict.

Barefield sat mostly still throughout the trial, occasionally writing on a notepad with his left hand.

Prosecuting Attorney David Gibbons characterized Barefield as a "hunter" fed up over repeated thefts, who decided to "eliminate" Brock and DeWitt -- who entered the yard late on a stormy Friday night to steal car parts, according to testimony.

Gibbons said Barefield recognized car parts as "bait" for thieves, just as acorn is for deer, and he put on camouflage, grabbed a scoped semiautomatic rifle, a stool and snacks, and waited in the rain for the men to arrive.

Surveillance footage shown to jurors placed Barefield at the scrapyard that night, carrying the rifle and other gear. The footage also captured him leaving shortly after a resident who lives near U-Pull-It called 911 to report hearing four gunshots, according to testimony.

Video footage did not show any gunfire. No DNA evidence connecting Barefield to the killings was presented.

Barefield told an investigator that he returned to the scrapyard the next day and crushed the car in which the two men were found, but that he didn't know they were inside.

Defense attorney Patrick Benca said Barefield was "primarily" at the scrap yard that night to check on whether the thunderstorm ruined newly placed gravel. Barefield also scouted for thieves, conducting "recon," Benca said, but with no intention to hurt anyone.

Benca urged jurors to heed video footage that he said shows lights in the distance at the scrapyard around the time Brock and DeWitt were killed. He said Barefield and the victims had been on the scrapyard for a 90-minute overlap but that shots weren't fired until the time the lights appear.

Benca also said investigators didn't follow up on multiple leads, and narrowed the investigation to Barefield after seeing him on video.

The investigation "followed the evidence," said deputy prosecutor Heather Patton, who had the last word with the jury during a 30-minute rebuttal to Benca's argument. "It didn't follow shadows that cannot be shown were in that salvage yard."

Patton also told jurors that they could reach an innocent verdict only if they believed that law enforcement officers "planted evidence" -- the shell casing -- at the scrapyard. Benca pushed that theory, saying he was not "in the business" of accusing law enforcement of underhanded tactics and that was something for the jury to determine.

"You've got to believe that [planted evidence] if you believe their story," Patton said. "It doesn't work any other way."

About 70 minutes after the jury began deliberating, it requested a transcript of testimony delivered by the state Crime Lab firearms examiner Kelsey Ellison, who conducted tests to determine whether a fired shell casing found at the scene and the damaged bullet extracted from Brock's body could be linked to Barefield's rifle.

Pearson called the jury back into the courtroom to inform them that there was no transcript available.

Two and a half hours later, jurors asked Pearson if there was "any way" to have Ellison's testimony read back to them. Pearson said no, citing the lack of a certified transcript. The jurors' note also asked whether anyone had introduced Ellison's lab reports as evidence, to which Pearson said no.

Opposing counsel presented seemingly conflicting summaries of the expert's testimony during closing arguments. Benca said the tests were inconclusive, while Gibbons said the tests showed that the bullet had been in the rifle chamber -- if not necessarily fired -- and the casing was consistent with being fired from Barefield's weapon.

More than 90 people squeezed into the Pope County courtroom gallery to hear the closing arguments -- several stood leaning against the walls -- after witnesses were released from court rules that barred them from hearing testimony.

The trial has unfolded in Barefield's hometown of Russellville, a city of roughly 28,000 people, located about 80 miles west of Little Rock.

Amy Stivers and Melinda Crowder, who travel the state with Parents of Murdered Children to provide victims' families support in court, said they don't recall this much interest in a trial since at least 2008.

By 9 a.m., the courtroom was packed. Women took turns cradling an infant. A row of local law enforcement officers passed around a tin of breath mints. People swiped through Facebook on their cellphones. An Army National Guardsman, DeWitt's older brother, sat on the carpeted floor.

Attorneys, meanwhile, met in Pearson's chambers to discuss jury instructions.

Pearson ruled in open court that jurors did not have the option of considering the lesser charge of manslaughter, which would have hinged on whether Barefield was reckless, because evidence introduced during the trial was not sufficient for that, he said. He summoned the jury at 9:55 a.m.

"You should not consider any rule of law with which you are familiar unless it is included in my instructions," Pearson later told the jurors when presenting their options.

Many family members of Barefield, Brock and DeWitt remained inside the courtroom while the jury deliberated.

Brock's grandfather, James Brock, showed off a binder filled with detailed pencil drawings of cars and trucks that were signed by the younger Brock. The drawings were of Toyotas and Chevrolets, Dodges and Jeeps.

He drew decals, meticulously cross-hatched grills and, in one case, a license plate resembling the Confederate battle flag.

Most of the vehicles were stationary, facing the right of the page. Some he had drawn twisting and turning on rocky terrain.


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Metro on 11/02/2017