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February 21, 2018

Special team helps arrest fourth suspect in slaying


Special team helps arrest fourth suspect in slaying

The fourth suspect in the death of a Johnson County man who disappeared on New…


The fourth suspect in the death of a Johnson County man who disappeared on New Year’s Eve was arrested Monday afternoon in Morrilton with the help of an absconders apprehension team from the Arkansas Department of Community Correction.

The Special Response Team was one of multiple law enforcement agencies involved in the arrest of Zachary Aaron Geels, 29, on a warrant charging him with first-degree murder in the death of 29-year-old Vernice “Dewane” Ledbetter of Clarksville.

A posting on Community Correction’s Facebook page Monday said Geels was taken into custody about 3 p.m. by the response team, members of the Johnson County and Yell County sheriff’s offices, and the Arkansas State Police.

Johnson County Sheriff Larry Jones said officers received a tip that Geels, who lives in Clarksville, was in Morrilton.

Community Correction spokesman Dina Tyler said the Special Response Team, which searches for parole and probation absconders, was assigned to go after Geels because he was a parole absconder who missed checking in with his parole officer Dec. 11, but also because he was wanted on a murder warrant.

“We were contacted by law enforcement [indicating] he was under suspicion for homicide in Johnson County, and we started looking for him,” Tyler said.

The Facebook posting said Geels had been sentenced previously to probation for felony assault and on drug charges. He was released in August from the Arkansas Department of Correction.

The three other men being held in the Johnson County jail in connection with Ledbetter’s death are Isaac T.M. Vaughn, 21, of Paris; Brian A. White, 21, of Clarksville; and Phillip A. Raible, 29, of Clarksville. A news release from the Johnson County sheriff’s office said the three were each being held in lieu of $750,000 bond.

The four men are scheduled to appear March 1 in Johnson County Circuit Court, Jones said.

Only Geels had been formally charged in Ledbetter’s death as of Tuesday, according to circuit court records.

According to an affidavit for Geels’ arrest warrant, Ledbetter’s wife, Bianca, reported her husband missing Jan. 1. She last spoke to him just after midnight Dec. 31.

Vaughn, who was being held in the county jail on other charges, told investigators Jan. 20 that he saw Ledbetter being killed and that White, Raible and Geels were present, the affidavit said.

Vaughn said that before the murder occurred, Geels “put Ledbetter on the ground” while the others looked through his cellphone, the affidavit said. They found “cop stuff” in the phone, according to the affidavit.

They took him to another location where Vaughn said Ledbetter was pistol-whipped and shot five times by White, the affidavit said. Interviewed later, White said Vaughn shot Ledbetter, according to authorities.

On Jan. 22, a burned body was found north of Hagarville on a logging road off Arkansas 123. A news release from Jones’ office Jan. 24 said the body was identified as Ledbetter.

NW News on 01/31/2018


Source: Special team helps arrest fourth suspect in slaying

Special team helps arrest fourth suspect in slaying


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