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'New Information' In Villegas Hearing Causes Postponement

By Maria Garcia, MariaG@kvia.com.
Published On: Jul 15 2012 06:46:20 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 24 2011 07:30:30 AM CDT
EL PASO, Texas -

Attorneys are being tight-lipped about why Daniel Villegas' evidentiary hearing has been postponed until August 8th.

The convicted murderer maintains he is innocent and did not kill Armando Lazo and Robert England in Northeast El Paso 17 years ago.

Villegas was slated to testify on Friday during his evidentiary hearing. That's when prosecutors and attorneys review all the evidence again to make sure nothing was overlooked. Instead of hearing his testimony, specators found out the hearing was postponed until August 8th, due to new information that had surfaced.

Neither the prosecution or the defense have said what that new information is. It could be new evidence or a new witness.

Local businessman John Mimbela has campaigned and financed the process to get Villegas an evidentiary hearing. Villegas is a family friend of Mimbela.

On Friday, The Project Director of the Center on Wronfgul Convictions of Youth at Northwestern Law School said Villegas fits the case of a coerced confession by police.

"So when you corner a kid, you bring him into an interrogation setting, and he feels there's no way out unless he just adopts or says what he believes the police want him to say, it's like taking candy from a baby, it's easy to get him to say what they want him to say", said Joshua Tepfer, who has been in El Paso in support of Villegas.

Villegas claims he was not even at the scene of the crime. He admits he was a small time delinquent at the time, but did not even know the victims. He jokingly boasted to his cousin he had shot the two teens, a crime he said he read about in the newspaper.

"It was just a stupid joke, being juveniles and all, we didn't think nothing of it", Villegas said during an exclusive interview at a state prison in Abilene last fall.

Word of Daniel's boast reached police fast, and he said, the real nightmare began. He was arrested, and claims he was threatened and slapped by detectives.

"They were going to take me to the desert and beat me up, handcuff me to the car, then whip me again, then let me walk home, and then when I hit the highway, they were going to pick me up again, and they were going to whip me again, and they were telling me they were going to give me the electric chair, and i believed them, too", Villegas said.

According to Villegas, the interrogation took seven hours and left him desperate for a way out. "The big factor was fear. Fear and I was drained. I was drained emotionally and everythign else. I mean, these guys put me through hell. I would have done anything just to get away from them", Villegas said.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza prosecuted Villegas and said he would not have asked the jury to convict Villegas if he was not sure the evidence against Villegas was valid.

"The confession in this case, was a juvenile confession, which requires law enforcement to take extra steps to ensure that the confession is voluntary", said Esparza in an interview last fall.

Villegas supporters argue that the evidence that he is innocent is in his own confession.

"The key is being able to determine, through the objectively knowable facts - determine which are false and which are true, and when you take a close look at Daniel's confession and you take a close look at the corraberating evidence there are so many facts that stick out that prove that this is an untrue confession", said Tepfer.

The supposed driver and passenger in the car the night of the shooting, mentioned in the confession - were later confirmed to be in jail and at home. Also, in the confession, Daniel said he killed the two teens with a shotgun. The actual weapon used was a small caliber handgun.

Villegas had two trials. Jurors could not come to an agreement in the first one. "It was 11 to 1, so clearly 11 people were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, it's not enough to get a conviction, but it's certainly an indicator", said Esparza of the first trial.

Villegas' family sold many of their posessions to hire an attorney for that trial. By the second trial, though, they were out of money and Villegas was represented by a court-appointed lawyer, who didn't present any of the 18 original defense witness who participated in the first trial.

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