Authorities ID body found in rural area; 3 Arkansas men held in connection with homicide

Man, 29, missing since New Year’s Eve

Posted: January 25, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

The body of a man found Monday in a remote area north of Hagarville has been identified as Vernice "Duwane" Ledbetter, 29, who disappeared on New Year's Eve, according to a news release Wednesday from Johnson County Sheriff Larry Jones.

"The body had been burned," according to an affidavit from an Arkansas State Police investigator. "It appeared the body had at least two gunshot wounds."

Three men are being held in the Johnson County jail in Clarksville in connection with the homicide, according to the release.

According to Johnson County jail logs, police arrested Isaac T.M. Vaughn, 20, of Paris, on Jan. 12; Brian A. White, 21, of Clarksville on Friday; and Phillip A. Raible, 29, of Clarksville on Sunday.

All three appeared before Circuit Judge William Pearson on Monday, and bail was set at $750,000 for each man, according to the release. They are scheduled for a second court appearance March 1.

The news release states that the three men were arrested on first-degree murder charges, but Prosecuting Attorney David Gibbons, said formal charges have yet to be filed.

A warrant was issued Tuesday for a fourth suspect in the case -- Zachary Aaron Geels, 29.

According to an affidavit filed in Johnson County Circuit Court by Special Agent Matthew Foster of the Arkansas State Police, Ledbetter last spoke to his wife by phone Dec. 31, telling her he was with White in a pickup "going up on the mountain to get more firewood."

On Jan. 20, Vaughn told police he witnessed Ledbetter being killed and that White, Raible and Geels were present, according to the affidavit.

"Before the murder of Ledbetter occurred, Geels 'put Ledbetter on the ground' at the bonfire," according to the affidavit. "They took his phone and started going through it and found 'cop stuff,'" the affidavit says.

They tied Ledbetter's hands together with wire and drove to a remote location, according to the affidavit.

"Vaughn said Ledbetter was 'pistol whipped' and that White walked up to him and shot Ledbetter five times," according to the affidavit.

White told police Vaughn shot Ledbetter, according to the affidavit.

Metro on 01/25/2018