By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico
Police believe an argument after a night of drinking led a 24-year-old Roswell man to beat a 51-year-old truck driver to death and dump his body in a ditch east of Clovis.
Brandon Barela was arrested Friday afternoon in Roswell and is charged with an open count of murder.
His bond is set at $500,000, Undersheriff Wesley Waller said
In other new developments Friday, Waller said the victim was positively identified as Ronnie Hittson of Tucumcari by medical investigators.
Hittson met Barela and a group of people he was with at Webb’s Watering Hole in Clovis and began drinking and socializing hours before the homicide, Waller said.
Hittson, Barela and some of the others he was with drove to a second bar, City Limits in Clovis, where they drank more.
Waller said after the group left City Limits, “A dispute between (Hittson and Barela) developed, resulting in Mr. Hittson’s death.”
Investigators believe Hittson was bludgeoned near the ditch. His body was found several hours later by a passing truck driver around 7 a.m. Thursday morning.
The truck driver called 911 to report a male lying on the shoulder of the road at Sugarbeet Road and State Road 523, police records show.
Waller said investigators also believe there were other individuals present at the time of the beating and more arrests are possible.
“There were witnesses to the beating and we’re still conducting interviews,” he said. “There could be additional arrests to follow.”
Waller said a “weapon of opportunity” was used, but said police are withholding a description, citing the ongoing investigation.
District Attorney Matt Chandler lauded the efforts of law enforcement — Curry County Sheriff’s Office, Major Crimes Unit, New Mexico State Police and Roswell Police — for their quick work.
“This is excellent police work to have a case with a victim who is not local and all your suspects are not local either and to put a case like this together as they did is just an excellent job,” he said.
Crediting the quick arrest to good investigative work, Waller said the pieces of the puzzle came together as investigators canvassed local businesses.
“The investigators that worked on this case did a great job. They were relentless and were quickly able to determine the sequence of events leading up to the murder,” he said.
By late Friday afternoon, Barela was being booked at the Curry County Adult Detention Center, jail officials said.
In June, Barela was convicted of misdemeanor battery against a household member in Roswell Magistrate Court and given two years probation.
Hittson’s death marks the first area homicide for the year.
The last Curry County homicide to occur outside Clovis city limits was the Nov. 25 shooting of Elvin Osmin Orellanna Rivera, a Honduran national shot in his Texico home by masked intruders.
No arrests have been made in that case.