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story.lead_photo.caption Tyler Barefield, 35, of Russellville

RUSSELLVILLE -- The man accused of shooting two men in the back and crushing their bodies at his scrapyard last year welcomed search efforts while they were missing and explained to the men's families that blood leaking from smashed cars belonged to animals, witnesses testified Tuesday.

Tyler Barefield, 36, faces capital-murder charges in the deaths of Aaron Brock and Beau DeWitt, both 22, of Dardanelle. Opening statements in Barefield's trial, scheduled to last into next week, began at 9 a.m., one day after jurors were selected. If convicted, Barefield could face the death penalty.

Brock's stepfather, Nick Costantino, testified that Barefield allowed family members to enter an employees-only section at U-Pull-It Auto Parts of Russellville on Sept. 20, 2016. Brock and DeWitt had been missing since their girlfriends dropped them off at the yard late on the preceding Friday night.

Family members recovered a cellphone and a headlamp belonging to DeWitt in the yard one day earlier, Costantino said. Back for another look, Brock's mother screamed after seeing what appeared to be blood, he said.

"Ah, those are just dogs," Barefield said after taking a look, according to Costantino. "We crush them all the time."

Barefield then climbed on a forklift to pry apart three cars fused into one scrap heap so that responding officers could peer inside a Chevrolet Impala, Lt. Glenn Daniel of the Russellville Police Department testified. Brock and DeWitt were inside.

Barefield later loaded the Impala on a flatbed truck to go to the state Crime Laboratory, the officer said.

"He was the most helpful person I've met," Daniel said.

Authorities arrested Barefield two days later after reviewing security footage from the scrapyard's cameras. Free on an $850,000 bond, Barefield wore a gray sports coat, dark slacks and a blue tie. He was cleanshaven, and his tightly cropped hair held some gray. He occasionally talked with family members during breaks in the trial, but during testimony he mostly was still.

Prosecuting Attorney David Gibbons in his opening statement portrayed Barefield as aware that people were looking to steal car parts. A cable locking one gate was cut, as was a fence on the other side of the yard, and various parts were stacked where they didn't belong in an indication that someone wanted to retrieve them after hours, he said.

Instead of fixing the gate and the fence, Gibbons said, Barefield dressed in camouflage, armed himself with a scoped AR-15-style rifle and stalked in the darkness during a thunderstorm before killing the trespassers. Barefield stashed the bodies in a Chevrolet Impala and, by Saturday morning, crushed the car and placed it in a stack of other vehicles, Gibbons said.

"He did in fact ... fix his problem," Gibbons said. "He took the lives of two boys."

A bullet casing recovered from the scene shows a bullet was discharged from a rifle later recovered from the scrapyard, Gibbons said. A security camera recorded Barefield carrying a rifle on the night of the shooting, he said. Barefield told an Arkansas State Police investigator that he used a machine to crush the car but denied knowing the men were inside, according to the prosecutor.

Barefield's defense team, led by Patrick Benca, disputed the prosecution's theory that Barefield did not fix the gate and fence -- noting that the cabling was replaced the day it was noticed and suggesting Barefield was unaware of the stacked parts until after the slayings -- while introducing an alternative theory involving a white-supremacy group.

Brock's girlfriend, 22-year-old Laree Rowan, who dropped the men off at the salvage yard on the night they disappeared, testified that Brock was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood and had tattoos marking his affiliation with the group.

Pressed by Benca, Rowan testified that she told police early in the investigation that she was concerned their disappearance could have been connected to the group. When questioned by deputy prosecutor Heather Patton, Rowan said she was "panicked" and wanted to explain "every possible situation" to police.

John Kennedy, who used the phrase "common sense" at least five times while presenting the defense's opening statement, said Barefield was at the scrapyard that night to check on newly laid gravel during a rainstorm. He carried the rifle because the dark property organized by rows of stripped-down vehicles is a "scary place to be at night," Kennedy said. Barefield fired one shot during a scare that Kennedy did not immediately detail to "protect himself."

U-Pull-It Auto Parts, which Barefield co-owns with his father and uncle, is on the southern outskirts, across town from Arkansas Tech University and about 3 miles away from the courthouse. Russellville, with a population of roughly 28,000, abuts Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River about 80 miles west of Little Rock.

Dardanelle, where Brock and DeWitt lived, is about 4 miles south of the salvage yard.

A marker board at the downtown Russellville courthouse's entrance Tuesday advertised the trial's third-floor location. People milled in and out throughout the day, and at one point about three dozen people sat in the audience.

Rowan testified that she drove Brock and DeWitt to U-Pull-It at 11:30 p.m. Sept. 16. She dropped them off and watched them squeeze beneath a fence just like they had on at least four previous occasions when she took them to the salvage yard after hours. They waved her off, she drove home and went to sleep awaiting a text message that never came.

Costantino, Rowan and other family members began searching for the men on Saturday. Over the weekend, they drove around the yard and along nearby roads, finding nothing. They arrived at U-Pull-It at 9:30 a.m. that Monday, and within an hour recovered a cellphone and headlamp belonging to DeWitt, Costantino testified.

The items were found in a private section of the yard, which the searchers accessed without permission because they did not realize they needed it, Costantino said. They showed the items to a Dardanelle police officer, who declined to take them and advised that Costantino give them to DeWitt's family, which Costantino did, he testified.

Family members returned the next day and obtained permission from Barefield to go back into the private yard, which is an overflow lot for cars that have been crushed, picked clean or are awaiting movement to the public section. That's where Brock's mother found the blood, Costantino said.

Benca and Gibbons said separately that they would not comment until the trial concludes.


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Metro on 10/25/2017

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