by: John Rodriguez
Since 1993, Daniel Villegas has been serving a life sentence for a double-murder in El Paso, Texas and now after 19 years he could possibly receive a new trial after the confession he gave could be the result of police coercion by the detectives who interviewed him. New presentation reveals that the confession he made at 16 was the byproduct of young man having been forced into making, and now after spending nearly two decades in jail 35-year-old Villegas is trying to prove his innocence.
After reviewing the presentation, Judge Sam Medrano insisted the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant Villegas a new trail. “This Court’s recommendation of reversal is based on the numerous and inexcusable mistakes and omissions committed by the State of Texas, as well as defense counsel, that have harmed Villegas over the last 19 years,” said Judge Medrano in his written finding which was released Thursday. Judge Medrano goes on to describe Villegas’ confession to be “coerced and unreliable.”
When hearing the Judge’s findings, Villegas, along with his attorneys Luis Gutierrez and Joe Spencer, broke down crying. “There are two possibilities: for them to schedule a new trail for us or for them to find Daniel innocent,” said Villegas’ attorney, Luis Gutierrez.
“The evidence shows that the crimes were not committed by Villegas,” said Joshua Tepfer, the project chief at the Center for Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University, “They were committed by two other people and we have a witness who confirms it.”
The true culprits behind the crime Villegas was accused of are brothers Rudy and Javier Flores, the latter is deceased but the former is currently serving time in a federal prison due to another crime he committed. The crime in question occurred in 1993 when four young men, including Armando “Mando” Lazo and Robert England, were walking down a El Paso street and fired upon by three people within an automobile driving by. England died at the scene and Lazo was found dead beside a house near the crime scene.
Hours after the murders police arrested Villegas, but no physical evidence was found tying him to the crime. His “confession” was the only thing the detectives had against him. Villegas’ first trial ended in 1994 with a hung jury, but his second trial the jury found him guilty of the murders and sentenced him to life in prison. And now, 19 years later, Villegas could be given a third chance to become the free man he deserves to be.
Aside from Villegas being emotionally overcome by the Judge’s findings, Villegas’ father was also satisfied stating that justice was starting to be done for his son who was wrongly imprisoned and that, “We’re very happy after so many years of suffering by the family and by Daniel. It’s been too many years waiting for our son to have a clean trial at last.”
“We’ve handled several cases all over the country like that of Villegas,” Tepfer said. Tepfer has worked with Villegas’ lawyers seeking to free the man who has been wrongly sentenced. “From my experience, I can say that it’s just a question of time until we’ll be able to get Daniel free.”
Tepfer nor Villegas’ attorneys have identified the witness claiming Villegas’ innocence, but they strongly—like everyone around him—believe in Villegas innocene. Villegas will have to endure more time before he can finally receive the freedom that awaits him.