Footage of Arkansas junkyard shows suspect in killings

Posted: October 28, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
Updated: October 30, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Tyler Barefield, 35, of Russellville

RUSSELLVILLE -- Jurors watched surveillance footage Friday that showed Tyler Barefield carrying two firearms on the night he is accused of killing two men in his Russellville scrap yard.

The rifle Barefield held was the weapon used to shoot Aaron Brock and Beau DeWitt, both 22 of Dardanelle, prosecutors said. Investigators later recovered the rifle and linked it to a single shell casing found at the scrap yard, though not conclusively to a bullet.

After the shootings, according to the prosecution's timeline, Barefield placed the rifle in his truck and then wielded a pistol in his right hand as he locked up an office and workshop at the scrap yard. Lead defense attorney Patrick Benca, who has said Barefield felt he was in danger, said this indicated Barefield believed a "threat" lurked outside.

Barefield, 36, who faces two counts of capital murder, is accused of fatally shooting Brock and DeWitt before placing their bodies in a car and crushing the car with a compactor.

Jurors spent much of the trial's fourth day of testimony in a silent, chilly and packed courtroom watching the surveillance footage. Lightning flashed repeatedly on the television screen, at one point illuminating the slim Barefield as he walked through the thunderstorm, amid lapses in action that lasted for minutes at a time.

They saw Barefield sit, stand, sit and stand inside the office Sept. 16, 2016, a Friday, after he first backed his truck into the yard's shop. He walked around the office and peered through windows. He walked back to the shop and returned to the office, carrying what appeared to be a bag. Later, he walked back into the shop holding what appeared to be the rifle.

They saw him return early the next morning, board a forklift and go into the yard.

Eight cameras were posted around the property, but none of the footage captured gunfire.

Deputy prosecutor Heather Patton, who presented the footage, did not narrate it. At times, it was difficult to see from the gallery what Barefield was doing in the video.

Jurors also heard of DNA test results -- nothing directly connecting Barefield to the killings was found -- and follow-up testimony from Brock's relatives.

But they missed a testy exchange between Pope County Circuit Judge William Pearson and Benca after Pearson had earlier referred to Benca as "childish" during a sidebar conversation.

Brock's girlfriend has testified that she dropped the men off at U-Pull-It Auto Parts of Russellville after hours Sept. 16, 2016, so that the men could steal car parts, as they had in the past. Investigators found Brock and DeWitt's mangled bodies Sept. 20 at the yard.

Prosecutors say Barefield, wearing camouflage, shot the men that night with a scoped semi-automatic rifle after learning earlier in the day that the yard was at risk of theft because someone had cut the fence.

Barefield's defense attorneys have said he was at U-Pull-It at unusual hours to check how newly laid gravel was faring during the storm and to watch for thieves, but that he wasn't there to cause trouble. He legally carried the firearms for protection and fired one shot from the rifle to protect himself during a scare that hasn't yet been described to jurors, attorneys said.

Barefield's trial is unfolding at the Pope County Courthouse in Barefield's hometown of Russellville, a city of about 28,000 people located nearly 80 miles northwest of Little Rock on the Arkansas River. Over four days of testimony, the prosecution has introduced more than 100 pieces of evidence. Prosecuting Attorney David Gibbons had not rested his case as of Friday's weekend recess.

More than 50 people attended the trial Friday. Some milled in and out, but most stayed for the duration. Spectators brought blankets and wore sweaters.

Barefield, who is free on an $850,000 bond, sat still and silent during testimony but visited with family during court breaks. The salvage yard remains open on the city's southern outskirts.

Jennifer Beaty, supervisor of forensic DNA at the state Crime Laboratory, testified Friday that she found two DNA matches based on samples investigators submitted to her. A sample from a metal chain at the scrapyard was linked to DeWitt. A shred of a napkin taken from Barefield's truck matched an undetermined male profile.

Beaty said investigators submitted a sample of Barefield's DNA to the lab.

Other samples, including those taken from gloves found in the smashed car, were inconclusive, she said.

Pearson called Benca "childish and unprofessional" during a sidebar discussion Friday, possibly within the earshot of jurors.

When jurors were later out of the room, Benca told Pearson his client had heard the remarks from across the courtroom and he feared jurors may have also heard.

"It's your conduct," Pearson said, adding that Benca had repeatedly not allowed opposing attorneys or himself to finish talking before interjecting. "You invited that response from the court."

Benca twice stood up amid the judge's comments and responded, which Pearson said was an "example" of what happened during the bench conference. Benca said he was interjecting because Pearson was "getting it all wrong" with respect to what Benca was thinking when he talked.

Pearson called the jury back in and -- at Benca's request -- asked if they heard "anything specific" during the past few sidebar conversations. One juror nodded, but it was not clear what the person overheard. Pearson then asked the juror to remain "fair and impartial" and only consider evidence and testimony when deliberating. The juror again nodded.

The sidebar conversations came Friday morning amid a second round of testimony from Laree Rowan, Brock's girlfriend.

Rowan revealed on direct examination that she sent a text message to Brock while he was at the scrap yard to ask his permission to go to Wal-Mart. When Benca asked if that is how their relationship normally "worked," Rowan said yes, but Patton objected.

When Rowan first appeared on the stand Tuesday, she told Benca that Brock was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacy group. Benca has indicated in court and court filings that he plans to base at least part of Barefield's defense on the theory that white supremacists with a reputation for violence were at the scene when Brock and DeWitt were killed.

Benca dropped the line of questioning after the sidebar. He then asked Rowan if she knew that Brock was married to someone else while she lived with him. Patton immediately objected, and attorneys walked to Pearson again to make their cases, in hushed tones, about the line of questioning.

After that conference, Benca dropped all questioning, saying he would later call Rowan as his own witness.

In a separate matter, a court security officer delivered Pearson a note from the jury. Pearson said it was not related to the sidebar discussions, and he summoned attorneys into his chambers for an off-the-record conference about the note. It was not discussed further in open court.

Benca and Gibbons have said they will not comment until the trial concludes.


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Metro on 10/28/2017