Daniel Villegas, the Texas man recently acquitted in a 1993 double murder, said Thursday that he had a moment of doubt before hearing the verdict.
“Did we make the right choice for our children?” he told Law&Crime Network host Vincent Hill. Prosecutors had offered Villegas the chance to take an Alford plea. This means he wouldn’t have admitted guilt, but would now assert that the state’s evidence was sufficient to convict. Taking it would’ve meant “no doubt” that he would’ve been able to raise his children, Villegas said. But he, supported by his wife, didn’t compromise. He wanted to prove he was innocent.
The result played out last Friday in an El Paso Courtroom. A tearful Villegas fell to his knees after hearing the verdict. The courtroom exploded in shouts and cheers.
The gamble paid off, and ended a 25-year odyssey for Villegas. Prosecutors had charged him for capital murder in the fatal drive-by shootings of Armando “Mando” Lazo and Bobby England. He was 16 at the time. Cops claimed he had confessed to the murder. A 1994 trial ended in a mistrial, but he was convicted in 1995. He spent the next 18 years in prison, until that guilty verdict was overturned. Judges determined that detectives intimidated him into confessing. He had been free on bond since then, but this recent trial–his third–could well have ended in a hung jury, if not a guilty verdict. One juror on Friday had originally voted guilty.
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) October 5, 2018
Attorney Joe Spencer said on Thursday that he was first doubtful about Villegas’ chances when he first heard about the case. But then he took a closer look at the details.
“It was very clear to me that Daniel was innocent,” attorney Joe Spencer said.
He slammed law enforcement’s approach to the case.
“None of the statements, including Daniel’s own confession, was corroborated by any of the physical evidence, nor was it corroborated by the eyewitness testimony,” he said, and added that survivors of the shooting contradicted Daniel’s confession. “If the police officers had just followed the evidence, they could’ve found the alternative perpetrator, who we believe is actually responsible for the murder of these two young men. So it was mind-boggling for me that all they did that once they obtained the confession they forced out of Daniel, they put on blinders to everything else.”
Former police detective Al Marquez was accused of coercing the confession from Villegas, but defended the integrity of the investigation. Spencer had a different take.
“The state never called him in this trial because his credibility is totally shot in El Paso county,” the lawyer said.
Now Villegas says that carrying forward, he’s going to work with an organization called Proclaim Justice in a bid to help other defendants. The group works on freeing wrongfully convicted people.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]