Daniel Villegas, Who Was Serving A Life Sentence For Murders He Claims He Didn't Commit, Released From Prison
Daniel Villegas, a man who has been serving a life sentence for murders he claims he did not commit, was released from custody on Tuesday, Jan. 14 after almost 20 years of imprisonment.
Villegas, 37, was convicted in 1995 of killing Robert England, 18, and Armando Lazo, 17 in a drive-by shooting in El Paso, Texas. Villegas himself was only 17 at the time of his conviction, and 16 at the time of the crime.
Daniel Villegas Released From Prison After 19 Years
After years of litigation, an appellate court vacated the 1995 conviction in December, 2013, and Villegas was released Tuesday on a $50,000 bond. In the eyes of the law, Villegas remains convicted of murder, and it is unclear whether or not a new trial will be scheduled.
“I never thought this day would come. Thank God,” Villegas told the large crowd of supporters and reporters upon his release from El Paso County Jail.
Villegas went to church before grabbing a steak meal and going home as a free man. Villegas later celebrated a late Christmas with his family.
Daniel Villegas: The Arrest & Conviction
Villegas was arrested and confessed to the crime in 1993, despite there being no physical evidence tying him to the crime. Before his trial, Villegas recanted his confession and claimed to have an alibi for the time of the murder: he was babysitting with friends. In 1995, Villegas was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the crimes and has been professing his innocence ever since. He maintains that the detectives in charge of his interrogation scared him into confessing.
“I was terrified. Anything to get away from these guys,” Villegas said.
Villegas’ case slowly gained support in an effort spearheaded by local businessman and friend of the Villegas family, John Mimbela. Eventually, supporters of Villegas discovered that his confession was full of factual mistakes. For example, the confession reportedly claimed that Villegas was in a car being driven by someone who was actually in prison at the time of the shooting. Jesse Hernandez, who witnessed the shooting as a teenager and ran to safety, was startled when he read Villegas’ confession.
“I had put it behind me – accepted that he did it. But nothing he said was right,” Hernandez told the Los Angeles Times in 2011.
In 2009, two witnesses of the shooting signed affidavits stating that claims made in Villegas’ confession did not actually match the crime.
Daniel Villegas Granted A New Trial
Villegas was granted an opportunity to appeal for a new trial in the summer of 2011, where a witness came forward claiming that the real killer was a gang member who had since died. This gang member had, in fact, been pointed out to the police following the shootings in 1993. In August of 2012 a judge ruled that Villegas would receive a new trial, resulting in his recent release from prison.
The District Attorney now has to make the decision of whether or not to proceed with a case against Villegas for the murder of Lazo and England. Prosecutors are expected to announce their decision next week.
“Looking at the evidence we have, do we have enough evidence to proceed? We’re not going to prosecute this case unless it’s the right thing to do. The other option is to dismiss these charges,” Assistant District Attorney John Briggs said following Vallegas’ release.
– Olivia Truffaut-Wong