Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Huber found guilty of second-degree murder

Clara Garcia News-Bulletin Staff Writer;

A Belen man who testified he never hurt his best friend was convicted Tuesday of Ryan Bryant's murder.

It took a jury of four women and eight men 90 minutes to reach a verdict.

Robert Huber, 50, of Belen, was convicted of second-degree murder, first degree kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence and two counts of intimidation of a witness. Huber is facing a minimum of 18 years in prison and a maximum of 45 years.

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Bryant, who had been reported missing for several months, was found dead in April 2001 in Socorro County. A passer-by and his dog found Bryant's decomposing body in a shallow grave while walking on a ditchbank near NM 60 in Bernardo.

After the verdict was read, Bryant's mother, Claudia King, said she was elated with the jury's decision. "This is just wonderful," she said. "This has changed our lives forever. I've lost my son, and I pray that no one will have to go through this.

"We knew the truth would come out, and now he has to pay for what he has done."

Assistant District Attorney John Bogren said he believes the jury's verdict was fair but that he would have liked to have seen Huber convicted of first-degree murder.

Sheriff's detective James Purdy, lead investigator on the case, said he was happy with the verdict. "A lot of hard work was done on this case," Purdy said, "and I'm glad that this will bring closure for the family."

Defense attorney Tom Esquibel said he was shocked when the jury foreman read the guilty verdict. "In my 27 years as an attorney, I never tried a murder case without a cause of death."

He said he will appeal the case.

Although the Office of the Medical Investigator said it couldn't determine an exact medical cause of death, it did determine Bryant died as a result of "homicidal violence."

Huber's defense team, attorneys Esquibel and Gary Mitchell, told the jury that their client wasn't guilty of the crimes he was charged with and urged them to find Huber not guilty.

"One question that should haunt all of us is: What was the cause of death to this young man?" Gary Mitchell said in his closing argument. "We don't know if the cause of death was a blow to the head, a drug overdose ... we'll never know.

"We do not find people guilty because the state can't prove the case. We've never done that in our country."

Mitchell said that, without knowing the cause of death, a jury can't find his client guilty. The Ruidoso attorney also questioned the prosecution's motives for taking Huber to trial while entering into plea agreements with other defendants in this case.

Assistant District Attorney Bert Parnall told the jury Huber acted as Bryant's judge, jury and executioner on the night of Oct. 18, 2000. He said Huber was responsible for Bryant's death and should be found guilty.

"He (Bryant) didn't deserve to die especially at the beck and call of Robert Huber," Parnell told the jury. "If Ryan was Bob's friend, why didn't he call the police? Why didn't he help Ryan? Why didn't he take him to the hospital?"

Parnall said Huber made the determination about Bryant's fate that night. He said Huber's actions that night and afterwards spoke louder than his words.

"Liars have an explanation for everything," Parnall said. "He has an explanation for his truck, for the bat and for the body."

During the trial, several people testified that Huber was responsible for Bryant's death. Four men who said they were with Huber when Bryant was reportedly beaten testified in the trial.

The jury heard testimony from Troy Hibdon, 37, of Peralta, Lincoln Hill, 28, and his brother, Rudy Marquez of Belen and Justin Brown, 30, of Los Lunas. All four men entered into plea and disposition agreements with the district attorney's office in exchange for their "truthful testimony" in Huber's trial.

Huber testified he met Bryant several years ago when Bryant became his assistant Little League coach.

"We were like brothers," Huber said describing his relationship with Bryant. "We fought, just like anyone else. But we continued to be friends and did things together."

Huber testified that on the night of Oct. 18, 2000, he witnessed Bryant getting beaten by Marquez and Hill but that he didn't participate in the fight.

Hill, Marquez and Hibdon all testified that they saw Huber participate in the fight. They said Huber used a baseball bat to hit Bryant.

The defendant also testified that, before he left his house after the altercation, Hibdon said he would take Bryant back to his house in Peralta.

The next morning, Hibdon called Huber and told him to go to his house because Bryant wasn't in good shape, Huber said. On his way to Peralta, Huber picked up both Marquez and Hill.

"When we walked inside Troy's house, he said Ryan had died, and Troy led us to the bathroom," Huber said. "I saw him laying on the floor. He looked like he was asleep. Rudy knelt down over him (Bryant) and did the sign of the cross."

Huber testified he told Hibdon, Marquez, Hill and Brown that someone should call the police. "Troy said no because he had hot cars and a meth lab in his house," he said.

Huber said he left the house after the men told him they weren't going to call the police.

Brown testified that it was Marquez who suggested they call the police. He also said Hibdon gave him money for gas and to help dispose of the body. But Brown also testified that before he was paid, he saw Huber giving the money to Hibdon.

"We discussed putting the body in the garage," Brown said. "The plan changed and we decided to take the body somewhere else."

Brown said they put Bryant's body, which was wrapped in a tarp, in the back of his truck. Brown said he, Marquez and Hill took the body to a riverbank in Bernardo.

He said they all dug a two-foot hole and buried the body.

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