A video recovered from the phone of a missing 19-year-old shows the man accused of his murder wearing a bloodstained shirt and cleaning a gun, prosecutors revealed in court documents.
Dylan Rounds, who lived by himself on a farm near Lucin, Utah, was reported missing on May 30, 2022. On March 3, his 59-year-old neighbor James Brenner was arrested and charged with aggravated murder and abuse and desecration of a human body, according to the Box Elder County sheriff’s office. In a probable cause statement, prosecutors described a key piece of evidence: a time-lapse video retrieved from Rounds’s phone that his mother said was taken just 30 minutes after the last time his family heard from him.
An initial search for Rounds after he was reported missing found a pair of his boots with bloodstains that DNA analysis showed belonged to him and Brenner, prosecutors said in the probable cause statement.
“At that point, it should have been treated as foul play,” his mother, Candice Cooley, told NewsNation. “You just don’t see someone’s boots in the desert that’s missing.”
Brenner was first named as a suspect in July 2022 after a joint investigation between the FBI and local authorities, but no criminal charges relating to Rounds’s disappearance were filed at the time, according to a joint statement from the FBI and Box Elder County sheriff's office.
According to court documents, Brenner had been “squatting” in a trailer 5 miles away from Rounds’s home. Authorities searched Brenner’s trailer on June 16 and found ammunition for a muzzleloader rifle; however, no gun was discovered at that time.
Authorities said they searched Brenner’s trailer again on June 21, finding a rifle with no serial number attached to it. The gun was taken into evidence, and Brenner was taken into custody on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Justin Rounds, Dylan’s father, told East Idaho News that he’d had a conversation with Brenner while visiting his son that may be a clue to a possible motive.
“When I got there, Brenner was talking about how Dylan backed into his horse gate. He was a little frustrated and I didn’t think a whole lot about it at the time. But that could have been what set him off,” he told the outlet.
According to prosecutors, Rounds's phone records revealed that he was at Brenner’s trailer and a digital forensic download of his phone found the time-lapse video.
The video showed Brenner covered in blood cleaning his gun, prosecutors said. The blood on the shirt Brenner was wearing in the video was later determined to match Rounds’s, according to prosecutors.
Cooley told East Idaho News that the timestamp on the video revealed that it was taken a half hour after Rounds ended a phone call to his grandmother, the last person he had contact with on May 28, 2022.
“How did that phone start recording? It has driven us crazy,” Cooley told the outlet. “I’m pretty sure when Brenner took the phone, he just hit the wrong button or had a wrong swipe and had no clue. Then it started recording.”
Brenner's next court appearance is scheduled for April 24, and he has remained in custody on the firearm charges.