FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
CALCASIEU, NO. 26440-15 HONORABLE DAVID ALEXANDER RITCHIE,
Kelly Bauman Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: Zachary Alexander Bench
Foster DeRosier Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Ross
Murray Elizabeth B. Hollins Assistant District Attorneys
COUNSEL FOR STATE-APPELLEE: State of Louisiana
composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, John D. Saunders, and Elizabeth
A. Pickett, Judges.
ELIZABETH A. PICKETT JUDGE.
Barlow, the victim's widow, testified that on August 25,
2015, she spoke to her husband, Jody Barlow, around 8:30 p.m.
Julia stated she and the victim lived in Texas and the victim
was at Niblett's Bluff, an RV Park near Starks, LA,
looking for a place for the two of them to go camping the
following weekend. She testified she spent much of the
following day trying to contact the victim, calling him
around 6:30 a.m. on her way to work along with several other
calls and numerous text messages.
stated she left work around 5 p.m. when Jody's sister
contacted her and told her Jody had failed to meet their dad
for coffee. She contacted Jody's mother, Tammy, and they
began searching for him at hospitals, jails, and anywhere
they could think to look. Julia stated her and Jody's
camper was at the RV park, and she stayed there on August 26
after she was unable to contact Jody. Julia noted Jody was
familiar with the Starks area, having spent time there while
young. Julia and Tammy reported Jody missing to authorities
at 8 a.m. on Thursday, August 27, 2015. Jody's body was
found and identified later that day.
testified Jody had been prescribed medication for Attention
Deficit Disorder. Julia testified that after Jody's
death, she also learned he had been taking additional
medication including the narcotic pain reliever Suboxone
which were delivered to Jody's father's house. She
testified she only remembered one occasion during the three
and a half years she and Jody were together where Jody seemed
high on narcotics. She further testified that Jody was a
loving, generous person whom she had never known to be
Steven Hyatt, a life-long resident of Starks, Louisiana,
testified that he saw the defendant, Zachary Alexander Bench,
in a side-by-side vehicle on the morning of August 26, 2015.
Mr. Hyatt identified a picture of the victim's
side-by-side as the vehicle the defendant was riding when Mr.
Hyatt spoke to him that morning. Mr. Hyatt also verified that
he had previously picked the defendant out of a photo lineup.
Matt Nichols, an employee at Niblett's Bluff, an RV park,
testified that he spoke with Elizabeth Demarest, the
defendant's girlfriend, between 7:30 and 8 in the morning
on August 26, 2015. Mr. Nichols testified Ms. Demarest was
upset and crying and told him she "was looking for Jody
and Zack." He also testified he knew Ms. Demarest from
Vinton High School, as it is a small town, and that she left
through the front gate of the park headed toward a
James McDonald, a friend of Jody Barlow's, testified Jody
typically kept his side-by-side at James's house, as Jody
lived in Houston and had nowhere to store it. He stated Jody
had picked up his side-by-side around 10 p.m. on August 25,
2015. Mr. McDonald also testified that the following morning,
he saw Jody's truck, pulling his side-by-side on its
trailer, but that the truck did not honk the horn at him like
Jody always does. This occurred in front of Mr.
McDonald's business on Wright Road. Mr. McDonald believed
he saw Jody's truck around 10 or 10:30 a.m., then again
about thirty minutes later.
Brenda Doyle, a fifty-nine-year resident of Calcasieu Parish,
testified that on the morning of August 26, 2015, sometime
between 9:45 and 9:55 a.m., she saw smoke just above the tree
line while driving to her mother's house. She marked the
area where she saw smoke on a pair of aerial photographs of
the Greenmoor area, noting she never saw fire, just the
smoke. Ms. Doyle acknowledged that she never reported the
fire she believed she saw. Ms. Doyle did note however, that
it was common for people to burn things in the area and she
only noticed the smoke because there was a strong smell
emanating from it.
David Smith, a retired Calcasieu Parish resident, testified
that on August 27, 2015, he and his wife discovered a body
hidden underneath their boat near their normal fishing spot.
He testified he never got closer than about ten feet from the
body, but that he called 9-1-1 once he was able to get out of
the woods where his phone had service.) Mr. Smith noted you
would need some type of off-road or four-wheel-drive vehicle
to reach the spot where his boat was located.
Alexander, a Lieutenant with the Calcasieu Parish
Sheriff's Office's forensic investigative unit,
testified that he oversaw the collection of evidence at the
scene of the crime, assisted in some of the evidence
collection, and took photographs at the scene. The state
introduced photographs Lieutenant Alexander identified as
photographs he took at the defendant's home. The state
also introduced photographs Lieutenant Alexander took at the
Alexander identified a number of items he recovered,
including a muddy pack of Marlboro Light cigarettes and a
muddy Porter-Cable light recovered from the defendant's
bedroom as well as a Marlin Model 60 .22 caliber rifle
recovered from the living room of the defendant's home.
Lieutenant Alexander acknowledged on cross-examination that
he did not know who owned the rifle and that he collected
evidence irrespective of its ultimate relevancy to an
Kent Johnson, a ten-year veteran of the Calcasieu Parish
Sheriff's Office, testified that he recovered a pair of
latex gloves at the burn site.
Brandon Peresich, a member of the Calcasieu Parish
Sheriff's Office's Forensic Division, testified that
he created a hand-drawn sketch at the body site and recovered
evidence from the site. The evidence included a couple of
Marlboro Light cigarette butts, several spent .22 caliber
shell casings, and multiple live .22 caliber rounds.
Melissa Durflinger, a sixteen-year veteran of the Calcasieu
Parish Sheriff's Office, testified she is part of the
Forensic Investigative Unit and took a number of pictures of
the body site which were introduced into evidence. Ms.
Durflinger also collected a partially burned cigarette from
next to the victim's right hand.
Charles Hunter, Jr., the chief investigator for the Calcasieu
Parish Coroner's Office, was certified as an expert in
the field of "death investigation." He discussed
the process the coroner's office takes in documenting and
recovering evidence from a victim's body, which in this
case included small caliber bullets taken from the
victim's neck and head.
Marler, a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurse at Lake
Charles Memorial Hospital, testified she drew blood and
obtained buccal swabs from the defendant on August 29, 2015.
Faulk, a deputy with the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's
Office, testified that he was called out to an area about a
quarter-mile west of Greenmoor regarding the discovery by a
couple of people on four-wheelers of a burned-out truck. He
was not sure if it was August 28 or 29, 2015.
Nordan, fifteen-year veteran of the Calcasieu Parish
Sheriff's Office, testified that he is a security auditor
in the corrections department whose duties include flying a
drone in order to get aerial surveillance photographs. Mr.
Nordan stated that on August 28, 2015, he was called out to
deploy the drone and take photographs of the burn site.
Nicholas Heinen of the State Fire Marshal's Office was
accepted as an expert in the field of fire origin and cause
investigation. Lieutenant Heinen investigated the burned
truck, trailer, and side-by-side at a warehouse after the
sheriff's office secured the vehicle. Lieutenant Heinen
testified that the truck "was burned down to the bare
metal" and he was unable to definitively determine the
cause of the fire. Lieutenant Heinen noted the truck was
powered by diesel, which burns at a lower rate than gasoline
and thus burns longer, and that it is uncommon for a
diesel-powered vehicle to self-ignite. Lieutenant Heinen was
unsure of the date of his examination of the truck.
state's next witness was LeeAnn Hebert, the former
general manager of Hebert's Country Grocery in Vinton,
Louisiana. She testified she knew the defendant by face, but
not name, and identified him in open court. Ms. Hebert
testified that the defendant always came to the store in a
cut-off shirt and shorts, and typically bragged about his
possessions. She stated that on August 26, 2015, however, the
defendant came in wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a ball cap,
and was very quiet. She also stated it was the first time she
had ever seen him wear a ball cap.
Cory Myers, a sixteen-year veteran of the Calcasieu Parish
-Sheriff's Office who is currently a vehicle crimes
detective, testified that he worked a missing person's
report on Jody Barlow on August 27, 2015. He testified that
he spoke with the defendant at the defendant's residence
in Vinton. Detective Myers stated that during this initial
conversation, the defendant denied knowing who Jody was and
even acted as if he thought Jody was a woman.
state then called Michelle Bench, the defendant's mother.
Ms. Bench testified that on August 25, 2015, the defendant,
who was living with her at the time, left sometime after 10
p.m. to "go somewhere with someone" and that she
went right back to sleep. Ms. Bench stated she woke up about
5:15 a.m. the following morning and left for work around 6:15
a.m. but did not know if the defendant was at home. She
testified that when law enforcement initially contacted her,
she told them Elizabeth, the defendant's girlfriend, was
looking for the defendant so she assumed he was not home. She
also testified the family owned a camouflage side-by-side and
that the defendant had spent about two years in the Navy.
Bench testified that the defendant's biological father
disappeared from his life around the age of seven and that
the defendant's step-father was an alcoholic who was
physically abusive toward the defendant at least once, noting
they believed he had broken the defendant's ribs in early
2012. Ms. Bench claimed that it was common for the defendant
to wear a ball cap and that he frequently wore a long-sleeved
flannel shirt even when it was hot. She testified that the
defendant had a little trouble with male authority figures
and that it pre-dated his military service and continued
state next called Detective Patrick Smith, a digital
forensics investigator for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's
Office who was a violent crimes investigator in August of
2015. Detective Smith testified that as part of the
investigation he obtained surveillance footage from
Niblett's Bluff RV Park. The videos introduced by
Detective Smith show Elizabeth Demerest arriving at
Niblett's Bluff RV Park at approximately 7:39 a.m. and
leaving at 7:46 a.m. on August 26, 2015. Detective Smith also
noted he recovered video from approximately 10:25 a.m. the
same day from Dollar General, where Ms. Demerest purchased
supplies to treat burns.
Smith testified video pulled from the Starks E-Z Mart gas
station established both the defendant and the victim were at
the gas station simultaneously prior to Jody Barlow's
disappearance on August 25, 2015. Video from the Starks Truck
Stop also showed the defendant and the victim walking around
the store and approaching the register together, as well as
leaving. The video was taken around 11 p.m. on August 25,
Smith testified video pulled from Hebert's showed the
defendant getting gas in his truck at 8:32 p.m. on August 25,
2015. The truck left at 8:35 p.m. Another video taken from
Hebert's from August 27, 2015, showed the defendant
wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a ball cap.
Smith testified that on the night of August 27, 2015, he and
Detective Casey LaFargue interviewed the defendant. The
defendant executed a waiver of Miranda rights form
at 1:24 a.m. on August 28, 2015. Detective Smith stated that,
initially, the defendant was interviewed as a potential
witness, the last person to see the victim alive. Thus, the
defendant was not read his Miranda rights until
about a quarter of the way through his interview. Detective
Smith noted that, after the interview, he subsequently
noticed burn marks on the defendant's body, including
burns to both arms.
defendant's interview with Detectives Casey LaFargue and
Patrick Smith began at 12:51 a.m. on Friday, August 28, 2015.
The defendant initially told the detectives that he had never
met Jody. He then stated he met Jody "last night at the
gas station---or maybe it was the night before that."
The defendant stated he bought Jody some ice when he met him
at Hebert's in exchange for tire spacers for the
defendant's truck and that he and Elizabeth went to town
to hang out with his friend Brandon. The defendant told
detectives he saw Jody again around 1:00 a.m. when Jody came
to his house after seeing his truck. There appeared to be
considerable confusion between the detectives and the
defendant regarding when these events happened.
defendant stated he tried to wake Elizabeth up to go with
him, even though he claimed he did not want to go with Jody,
but she stayed behind. He claimed that although Jody said he
wanted to go to an area called Dynamite, he instead went
towards Starks, stopping at multiple gas stations. The
defendant stated that Jody was using a prepaid phone to call
people trying to get some "bars."
defendant claimed he was getting paranoid because Jody was
heading towards Starks, not Dynamite, so the defendant told
him he had bars at his house so that Jody would bring him
home. The defendant stated he pretended to look for bars
before telling Jody he could not find them and that his
"baby mama's tripping on [him]," at which point
he claimed Jody left and he never saw him again.
defendant stated he told other sheriff's deputies he was
probably the last to see Jody alive because he had been with
him late into the morning, then proceeded to reiterate that
Jody was "fucked up," had taken three or four
Xanax, was falling asleep at the wheel, and "had a gun
on him tripping me out---a little revolver." When asked
what the gun looked like, the defendant responded "It
was a gray revolver. I didn't---I never touched it."
The defendant claimed both his mom and Elizabeth saw him come
home around three a.m. that morning. He also claimed that his
mom looked out her bathroom window and saw him. The defendant
claimed that when Elizabeth woke up, he was in a different
room and she got angry and was looking for him around the
house and at his grandmother's house next door. He then
stated he met Jody for the first time Wednesday night.
Detective Smith asked the defendant to go through his story
again, the defendant stated the last time he saw Jody was
about 4 a.m. Detective Smith then exited the room, and upon
re-entry the detectives executed a Miranda rights
waiver form. The defendant stated he decided to go with Jody
because it was clear Jody was not going to leave, so he
decided he might as well go and have some fun. The defendant
again stated he started getting worried because Jody headed
towards Starks, not Dynamite, stopped at multiple gas
stations, was carrying a gun and had been taking pills,
namely Xanax. He claimed Jody was arguing with someone on the
phone about getting more Xanax, and the defendant lied to him
about having pills at his house so that Jody would bring him
home. The defendant also claimed that when he told Jody at
his house that he could not find the Xanax that Jody was
annoyed and had his hand on the gun he was wearing on his
hip. He was also adamant that his mother woke up and saw Jody
outside the house when they returned. The defendant stated he
was wearing a white t-shirt, sweatpants and boots when they
stopped at the gas stations.
defendant told the detectives that he was at home sleeping in
bed with his daughter when Elizabeth woke up, to which the
detectives informed him that Elizabeth claimed he was at his
friend Brandon's house. The defendant subsequently
admitted to taking half of a bar himself, and told detectives
that Jody had "quite a few prescriptions in his glove
box." He then claimed they never went mud-riding and
that they never took the side-by-side off the trailer. The
defendant asked the detectives if Jody was okay, to which
they responded "[y]ou're the last one to see him, so
we're hoping you can tell us." The defendant
repeatedly denied having ever been to Jody's camper. The
defendant stated that after Jody brought him home around 4
a.m., he went inside and did not leave again until after the
sheriff's deputies woke him up around 11 a.m.
Smith and LaFargue left the defendant alone, during which
time he stated out loud that he "sure hope[d]
everything's okay." After about ten minutes alone,
the defendant again speaks aloud, wondering why violent
crimes is looking into a missing persons case.
initially telling the detectives that he had no problem with
them searching his home and truck and telling them he had no
problem helping with anything they needed, the defendant was
reluctant to give written consent for the sheriff's
office to search his home, so the detectives ceased
requesting for his consent. Again, the defendant admitted to
taking half of a Xanax bar, stating Jody had already broken
them up but also claimed he saw Jody take a whole bar. When
Detective LaFargue mentioned maybe they had gone somewhere
else that he had not mentioned, the defendant was ...