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Ryan Morgan

A third Artesia resident has been arrested in connection with the homicide of a Roswell man earlier this month.

The Eddy County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) arrested Ryan Morgan, 21, of Artesia, Wednesday on an open count of murder in the first degree in connection with the bludgeoning of Danny Mendes, 49, of Roswell.

Mendes’ body was discovered around 7:30 a.m. March 5 lying in the roadway near the intersection of Haystack and Four Dinkus roads south of Artesia. His cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head.

Over the course the following days, the ECSO conducted interviews with multiple witnesses and persons of interest in the case. Multiple search warrants were also approved and executed on various residences and vehicles involved.

Mendes had last been seen leaving Dexter on the evening of March 4 with other individuals in his vehicle. According to Morgan’s criminal complaint, Morgan told detectives he, Mendes, and two other suspects previously arrested in connection with the case – Michael Jimenez, 26, of Artesia, and Shabriel Lopez, 21, of Artesia – had driven to the remote area south of Artesia after “partying” and committing burglaries.

The complaint states Morgan initially denied involvement in Mendes’ murder, placing the blame on Jimenez, but later admitted to striking the first blow. Morgan allegedly told detectives he hit Mendes once in the back of the head with a hammer. Both Morgan and Lopez reportedly told authorities Jimenez then took the hammer from Morgan and continued to repeatedly strike Mendes, who had fallen to the ground.

The three suspects departed the scene in Mendes’ vehicle. The ECSO recovered it March 5 after it was found broken down on U.S. 285.

Following a standoff with ECSO task force agents and Artesia police March 8 at 405 Cleveland Ave., Jimenez was taken into custody on an open count of murder in the first degree. A five-day search resulted in a second arrest – Lopez – March 13 in Dexter on a charge of first-degree tampering with evidence.

Jimenez is currently being held at the Eddy County Detention Center on a $100,000 bond, and Lopez is being held on a $10,000 bond. Jimenez has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder and is scheduled for a 9 a.m. April 19 preliminary examination in Carlsbad Magistrate Court. Lopez has entered no plea to her charges and will appear in Carlsbad Magistrate Court for preliminary examination at 2 p.m. March 28.

Morgan is also at ECDC on a $100,000 bond and has entered a not guilty plea to the murder charge. He has been scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. April 6 preliminary examination in Carlsbad Magistrate Court.

ECSO Lt. Matt Hutchinson says investigators believe they now have all of the individuals connected with Mendes’ murder in custody but that the investigation will remain open.

“We wrapped up a good investigation on this, but we’re going to still keep other options open,” Hutchinson said. “There’s always follow-up in a homicide investigation; it’s never just, ‘This is it, we’re going to stop right here.’

“We’ll continue to follow up with people, listen to people, and if there are other people involved, we’ll hold them to the highest extent of the law. But right now, we’ll get these three people processed and go from there.”

Morgan has been arrested several times in Artesia, most recently on Feb. 9, when he was taken into custody in connection with a Christmas Day 2016 auto burglary. Morgan was charged with the burglary, four counts of conspiracy to commit auto burglary, and larceny in that case, which was bound over to district court.

He was incarcerated at ECDC at the time of his arrest Wednesday.