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A Polk County man has been sentenced to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to four counts of capital murder in the April 2017 slaying of his girlfriend and three members of her family.

Brian Bliss Travis, 39, had been scheduled to go on trial in March before a Polk County Circuit Court jury. The state made the plea deal with Travis on Jan. 7 so the victims' family could put the tragedy behind them, Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner said Thursday.

Riner said his office had not decided whether to seek the death penalty against Travis before his plea. Death or life in prison are the two punishments available for a capital-murder conviction.

Travis was accused of killing his girlfriend Bethany Jo Wester, 43, of Mena, her 9-year-old son Reilly James Scarborough, her 2-year-old daughter Acelynn Carrie Wester and her uncle Steven J. Payne, 66.

A probable-cause affidavit by Arkansas State Police Special Agent Jimmie Thomas II dated April 30, 2017, said Travis admitted killing all four people. Riner said Travis never gave a reasonable explanation for the killings.

The bodies were found separately beginning April 25, 2017, when Bethany Wester's body was discovered facedown in a creek southeast of Cove, about 3 miles south of Hatfield, a town of about 400.

Investigators initially did not know who the dead woman was but investigated her death as a homicide. The next day, April 26, 2017, Wester's employer reported to the Polk County sheriff's office that Bethany Wester had not reported for work all week.

Officers with the Mena Police Department were sent to Wester's home to check on the family , Thomas' affidavit said. They spoke with Travis at the home, arrested him on an outstanding warrant and took him to the sheriff's office.

Meanwhile, police identified the body found in the creek as Bethany Wester's after investigators obtained her description from family members. The state medical examiner's office ruled her death a homicide.

Authorities declared Wester's children missing and endangered. Acelynn was last seen April 20, 2017, and Reilly was last seen April 23. Representatives from local, state and federal agencies searched for the children in the hilly, forested country.

On April 27, 2017, Payne's body was found outside his home in Hatfield, south of Mena. His death was ruled a homicide.

Searchers found Acelynn's body April 28, 2017, off County Road 31 in a heavily wooded area in the Cove area. The affidavit said evidence at the scene indicated Acelynn had been killed.

A state police investigator interviewed Travis on April 29, 2017, the affidavit said. Travis admitted killing all four people and offered to show where he had left Reilly's body.

Accompanied by Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer and state police Senior Special Agent Scott Clark, Travis guided them to a location in the woods off a county road near Hatfield where they found Reilly's body.

NW News on 01/22/2019

Print Headline: Killer of girlfriend, her 2 kids, uncle pleads guilty, gets life

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