Opening arguments in the first-degree murder trial of a 25-year-old Roswell man Tuesday morning foreshadow a battle for credibility.
The state says it’s eyewitness watched Brandon Barela bash Ron Hittson in the face with a concrete block. But the defense said the eyewitness is diverting guilt from himself.
Characterizing the homicide as a robbery taken to extremes, Prosecutor Chamile Chavez told jurors Barela was planning something bad in the hours leading up to the homicide.
“Ron Hittson came to Clovis with the sole intent of getting a couple of drinks and sleep. Unfortunately, Ron Hittson became vulnerable in that he was friendly, unfortunately,” she said.
“Ron Hittson died of two things; rage and greed.”
Chavez said Barela’s coworker and eyewitness to the crime, will testify he watched Barela strike Hittson in the back of the head with a concrete block, fracturing his skull, then watched as Hittson fell and Barela stood over him, smashing the block into his face repeatedly.
“His entire facial structure in the front (was) obliterated,” she said, telling jurors investigators found a pool of blood under him and blood spatter spread several feet in every direction from where his body was found.
With his wallet and identification missing, the damage to the man’s face was so severe, investigators could not identify him or even determine his race, she said.
A 51-year-old Tucumcari truck driver, Hittson had stopped in Clovis the night of April 1 to relax on his way to Albuquerque. Chavez said while at Webb’s Watering Hole on Mabry Drive, he met up with Barela, Manuel Vargas and Lazaro Soto, three Roswell men in town working for a dairy testing company.
While at the bar together, Hittson said he wanted to get some drugs and offered to pay, she said.
Vargas will testify Barela asked to see Hittson’s money and made several “fake” calls on his cell phone, pretending to arrange a drug transaction for Hittson’s benefit, winking at Vargas throughout.
Chavez said the state will also present video showing the four leaving the bar together as they relocated to Clovis’ City Limits bar where they were eventually asked to leave.
Dropping off Soto at his hotel, Chavez said Vargas, Barela and Hittson went driving around in the county until an argument between Barela and Hittson ensued because Hittson disagreed with the price Barela was quoting him for drugs.
The driver, Vargas will testify he stopped so Hittson could get out of the truck but Barela got out after him, grabbing the block from the bed of the truck and striking him.
“He hits him in the face, again and again and again,” she said, relaying that Vargas looked away at one point, not wanting to see.
When Vargas eventually ran over to Barela and tried to stop him, she said Barela told him, “I know what I’m doing, it’s not like I haven’t done this before. I have to finish him.”
Chavez said Barela threatened and punched the traumatized Vargas, telling him not to tell anyone.
Investigators later found the bloody clothing Barela had worn the night of the homicide soaked in bleach at the dairy where he was working the next day.
Presenting his opening arguments after Chavez, defense attorney Brett Carter said it was Vargas who killed Hittson, diverting the guilt from himself to Barela through his statements to police.
A crime that occurred in less than a half hour, Carter said it was not planned or calculated, but instead the result of an argument between Vargas and Hittson when Hittson criticized Vargas’ driving.
Carter said there was an argument over the price for marijuana Hittson wanted to buy and Vargas had stopped the truck he was driving. When he tried to back it up, he jack knifed it.
The trio got out and Hittson started walking away.
A witness statement revealed Vargas hit Hittson with the truck as they were leaving the scene, he said.
“These individuals were highly intoxicated — drugs were possibly involved,” Carter told jurors.
“This was not a thought out murder, this was something that just happened.”
Vargas later lied to investigators before telling the story placing responsibility on Barela.
Carter also said evidence will show there was blood on Vargas’ seat in the truck and in his hotel shower drain, and that a bloody crowbar he was seen with has never been located.
“There is no doubt Mr. Hittson was killed,” he said. “(But) this was not a planned out robbery and murder.”
The prosecution began its case following opening arguments.
The case is scheduled for five days.
If convicted, Barela faces life in prison.
Coverage of the trial will resume with closing arguments and the verdict.