Arkansas man gets life without parole in salvage yard slayings, vows to appeal

Posted: November 3, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Tyler Barefield, 35, of Russellville

RUSSELLVILLE -- Tyler Barefield will appeal his capital murder conviction in the double slaying last year at his family's salvage yard, his attorney said Thursday after Barefield was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A jury found Barefield, 36, guilty on two counts of capital murder in the deaths of Aaron Brock and Beau DeWitt, both 22, of Dardanelle, whose bodies were recovered from a pile of crushed cars at U-Pull-It Auto Parts of Russellville days after they were fatally shot.

Brock and DeWitt sneaked onto the junkyard to steal car parts on a stormy Friday night before they were killed, according to testimony.

Surveillance footage from the property showed Barefield spent hours at the salvage yard that night. Prosecutors portrayed him as someone tired of repeated thefts who decided to "hunt" Brock and DeWitt while wearing camouflage.

Lead defense attorney Patrick Benca -- who said Thursday he was "heartbroken" and "stunned" -- highlighted gaps in forensic evidence, argued that Barefield did not go to the yard with an intent to kill and accused investigators of narrowing their investigation without thoroughly reviewing other leads.

Barefield faced two sentences of life in prison without parole after prosecutors declined to pursue the only other possible sentence, death by lethal injection. Pope County Circuit Judge William Pearson pronounced the life sentences Thursday.

Prosecuting Attorney David Gibbons said he felt a life in prison sentence was "more suitable" than the death penalty in Barefield's case. Gibbons said he applies "different criteria" when making that decision, specifically including a person's criminal history and whether the victim was tortured.

Gibbons prosecuted Jack Greene, who was issued a death sentence after his 1992 murder conviction in the torture and death of Sidney Burnett, a retired minister. Greene's execution is scheduled for Thursday .

"The rest I'll keep to myself," Gibbons said of the criteria.

Prosecutors did not present DNA evidence linking Barefield to Brock or DeWitt, and the U-Pull-It surveillance cameras did not capture the killings.

Because the jury concluded Barefield used a firearm while committing capital murder, additional years were tacked onto each life sentence. Opposing attorneys agreed to 7½ years on each count, which Pearson said will be served concurrently.

Barefield, who showed little emotion throughout the trial, met privately with attorneys and some family after the sentencing. He was then transported back to the Pope County jail, where he had been incarcerated Wednesday night after his $850,000 bond was revoked. His father, Randy Barefield, emerged from the meeting with red eyes.

Tyler Barefield has 30 days to file an appeal.

Benca registered numerous objections during the trial over the exclusion of evidence that would point to the possibility of other people being involved in the deaths of Brock and DeWitt.

Pearson determined the evidence didn't meet case-law standards specific to directing the jury to possible third-party involvement. He allowed Benca to elicit "proffer" testimony from witnesses that will be included in the court transcript but was received outside the jury's presence.

Kim DeWitt, Beau's mother, took the stand Thursday to deliver a victim's impact statement while Barefield watched. Barefield was not in handcuffs and, as he did throughout the trial, wore a sports coat and tie over slacks.

DeWitt described her son as "very popular" in school and someone who got along well with his brothers. She said he played football, basketball and baseball. Beau DeWitt's young son will grow up without his father, she said.

DeWitt declined further comment outside court, citing the potential appeal.

Brock's mother choose not to provide an impact statement, Gibbons said.

"I'm happy with the verdict, justice for the boys," Brock's stepfather, Nick Constantino, said after the sentencing.

Jurors deliberated for close to five hours before delivering their unanimous guilty verdict shortly after 8 p.m Wednesday, the eighth day of Barefield's murder trial in his hometown of Russellville. The city of about 28,000 people is roughly 80 miles west of Little Rock.

Twice during their private discussions, jurors sent Pearson notes requesting more information about the testimony of a state Crime Laboratory firearms expert.

The witness, Kelsey Ellison, testified Oct. 26 about tests she conducted that looked for a relationship between Barefield's rifle, a damaged bullet recovered from Brock's body and a shell casing found at the junkyard.

Gibbons and Benca provided conflicting accounts of her testimony during closing arguments.

The jury first requested a transcript and later asked if there was "any way" to have her testimony read back to them. Pearson declined both requests, citing the lack of a certified transcript.

"It raised some concern as to whether there was confusion by the jurors with regard to that issue," Benca said of the jury's questions.

Gibbons said the questions reflected the "thoroughness and seriousness" with which the jury approached the case.

"That's the nature of an adversarial system," Gibbons said of the conflicting arguments. "I thought the jury resolved any inconsistency and confusion properly."

Two jurors contacted by phone Thursday declined to talk about the case. Others could not be immediately reached.


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Metro on 11/03/2017