In April 1993, in El Paso, Texas, Daniel Villegas was only 16 years when he was arrested and later convicted of a double murder he did not commit. Without the presence of his parents or an attorney, he was interrogated for hours late into the night. He was threatened with the death penalty and told he would be taken to the county jail to get raped if he did not confess, which he eventually did. Daniel went to trial in 1995 with a court appointed attorney, John Gates, who was given just 60 days to prepare for the trial. Mr. Gates was assigned a private investigator 6 days before Daniel’s trial. Unprepared, he went to trial, called one witness to the stand and failed to call 18 available defense witnesses, including Daniel’s alibis. Without any physical evidence or eye witnesses tying Daniel to this crime, the prosecution relied solely on Daniel’s confession, which was full of impossible and false statements. Daniel has always maintained that his confession was false and coerced by Detective Al Marquez, a harsh and relentless interrogator. Nevertheless, after a 3 day trial, Daniel was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Several years after Daniel was convicted, El Paso businessman and Proclaim Justice board member John Mimbela heard about him through a family connection. He began looking into Daniel’s case, hired private investigators and attorneys, and started educating the public on the injustice that occurred. With the help of private investigator Freddie Bonilla, who has over 40 years in law enforcement, we have gathered overwhelming facts that were never presented in Daniel’s murder trial which prove his innocence. After researching Daniel’s case, the Northwestern Law Center on Wrongful Conviction of Youth from Chicago, Illinois and Dr. Richard Leo, a world famous expert on false confessions from San Francisco, also believe in Daniel’s innocence. Even Daniel’s trial attorney, John Gates, concluded that he was indeed ‘ineffective’ in representing Daniel. He admits missing many key factors that could have made a difference in the outcome of Daniel’s trial. After attending and hearing the overwhelming evidence in Daniel’s evidentiary hearings that was never presented in Daniel’s first trials, Ben Hodge, the foreman of the jury that convicted Daniel, agrees Daniel is innocent.
After a 2012 hearing, Judge Sam Medrano, Jr. recommended Daniel receive a new trial. His Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law were devastating to the state’s case. In December 2013 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously affirmed Judge Medrano’s decision. On January 14, 2014 Daniel was released on bond after spending almost 20 years in prison. We rejoiced that day as Daniel hugged his family and supporters as a free man. Unfortunately the story does not end there. District Attorney Jaime Esparza is proceeding with a retrial of Daniel despite a lack of any real evidence, which means we continue to work diligently to prove Daniel’s innocence once and for all. Significant resources are still being spent investigating the case, producing materials, and preparing for Daniel’s trial.