FROM THE POPE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 58CR-16-764]
HONORABLE WILLIAM M. PEARSON, JUDGE.
Rosenzweig, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Jason Michael Johnson,
Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
F. WYNNE, Associate Justice.
Barefield appeals following his convictions by a Pope County
Circuit Court jury on two counts of premeditated and
deliberated capital murder in the deaths of Aaron Brock and
Beau Dewitt. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without
parole for each murder, plus a total of 180 months'
imprisonment under Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-90-120
(Repl. 2016) for employing a firearm in the commission of the
felonies. On appeal, he argues that the circuit court (1)
erred in excluding evidence corroborating the defense that
the killings were perpetrated by someone other than him and
otherwise exculpating him on the charges of capital murder
and (2) abused its discretion in allowing testimony
concerning what a person could see with a scope when the
testing conditions did not replicate the conditions at the
time of the incident. We find no error and affirm.
bodies of Aaron Brock and Beau Dewitt were discovered inside
a crushed vehicle at U-Pull It Auto Parts salvage yard in the
Russellville area on September 20, 2016. The men had been
missing since being dropped off late on the evening of
Friday, September 16, to break into the salvage yard to steal
vehicle parts. The last communication from Brock was a text
message sent to his girlfriend, Laree Rowan, at 12:22 a.m. A
person who lived near U-Pull-It called 911 and reported
hearing four gunshots at approximately 12:40 a.m. Brock and
Dewitt were reported missing on Saturday, September 17, and
on Monday, September 19, Brock's family members searched
the salvage yard in an attempt to locate the missing men.
They found a cell phone and a head lamp belonging to the
victims. They returned the following day, and this time, they
observed blood dripping from a vehicle in a stack of crushed
cars; they detected a foul odor as well. The bodies of the
two men were inside the vehicle. The crushed vehicle was
transported to the Arkansas State Crime Lab in Little Rock,
where the top was removed and the bodies were extricated for
an autopsy. During the autopsies, the medical examiner
determined that each victim had died from a single gunshot
wound to the back of the torso. A .223-caliber projectile was
found lodged in Brock's lumbar vertebra. With that
information, the lead investigator returned to the salvage
yard and found a spent .223 shell casing in the area where
the bodies had been discovered.
evidence implicating appellant in the crime included the
discovery of an AR-15 rifle, .223 rounds, spent shell
casings, and spare magazines at his home; security video
footage showing appellant wearing camouflage at U-Pull-It on
that Friday night at the time of the shootings and showing
that he had his AR-15 with him; his statements to law
enforcement denying being present on the night of the
shootings; and the fact that, on Saturday morning before
U-Pull-It opened, appellant crushed the vehicle with the
bodies inside. The projectile recovered by the medical
examiner could not be conclusively linked to appellant's
rifle, but there was testimony that the shell casing
recovered at the scene had been cycled through that rifle. In
addition, Brock's cell phone was found in the vehicle
with the bodies, but the battery was not located. There was
testimony that the phone ceased all activity, including
receiving information and communicating with the cell towers
(suggesting removal of the battery), at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday
when appellant was at the salvage yard crushing cars. The
State's theory of the case was that appellant, an
operator and part owner in the family business, was tired of
repeated break-ins and decided to hunt down the perpetrators
himself. Appellant's defense was that he had not shot the
victims. Although he was seen on surveillance video carrying
a rifle, he sought to present evidence showing why other
people had motives to harm the victims and why he was armed
that night-due to the victims' ties to violent
white-supremacist groups. At trial, the defense contended
that appellant was at the salvage yard that night because it
was raining, and he wanted to see the condition of the gravel
that had just been brought in to deal with an erosion
problem. He relied on the absence of DNA or other physical
evidence connecting him to the shootings and pointed to the
video footage showing patterns of moving lights that he
argued showed the presence of other persons.
Points on Appeal
argues that the circuit court's rulings excluding certain
evidence were a misapplication of the doctrine of Zinger
v. State, 313 Ark. 70, 852 S.W.2d 320 (1993), which
governs admission of evidence of alternative perpetrators.
Further, he argues that the rulings also violated his
constitutional right to present a defense as guaranteed by
the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States
Constitution and cognate state constitutional provisions of
article 2, sections 8 and 10.
court reviews the admission of evidence by the circuit court
at trial using an abuse-of-discretion standard. Ellis v.
State, 2012 Ark. 65, at 10, 386 S.W.3d 485, 490. The
decision to admit or exclude evidence is within the sound
discretion of the circuit court, and we will not reverse a
court's decision regarding the admission of evidence
absent a manifest abuse of discretion. Id. Appellant
argues that the application of Zinger is a question
of law to which a de novo standard of review should be
applied, but we disagree. Consistent with our case law, we
apply an abuse-of-discretion standard. See Harmon v.
State, 2014 Ark. 391, 441 S.W.3d 891 (holding that the
circuit court abused its discretion in granting the
State's motion in limine to exclude the evidence that
there was DNA from more than one individual on several pieces
of evidence); Conte v. State, 2015 Ark. 220, 463
S.W.3d 686, (applying an abuse-of-discretion standard to
Conte's Zinger argument).
Zinger, supra, the appellants had been
convicted of first-degree murder. At trial, they had
attempted to introduce testimony regarding a similar crime
that had occurred approximately thirty miles away, in
Louisiana, for the purpose of convincing the jury that the
person who committed that crime might also have committed the
murder of which they had been accused. The circuit court
refused to allow the evidence. On appeal, this court wrote:
address this issue, we must consider under what circumstances
evidence incriminating others is relevant to prove a
defendant did not commit the crime charged. . . .
Addressing this precise issue, the Supreme Court of North
A defendant may introduce evidence tending to show that
someone other than the defendant committed the crime charged,
but such evidence is inadmissible unless it points directly
to the guilt of the third party. Evidence which does no more
than create an ...