The detective accused of coercing a confession out of convicted killer Daniel Villegas has taken the stand.
Former El Paso police detective Al Marquez, who has not been charged with any crime in connection with this case, testified Thursday he did not remember many details of the Villegas' case.
Villegas was convicted in the shooting deaths of Armando Lazo and Robert England 16 years ago. Two years before his conviction, at the age of 16, he confessed to the crimes to Marquez, without an attorney or his parents present.
Defense attorney Joe Spencer, showed a statement that Marquez, the lead detective in the case, took from Rudy and Javier Flores, the two men Villegas' advocates say may have killed the two victims.
In the statement given to police the morning after the murders, Rudy Flores said he was on the same street where the deadly shootings took place between 12:15 and 12:20 A.M. The 911 call reporting the killings came in at 12:18 A.M.
"I don't remember about the 911 call, I didn't even know there was a 911 call," Al Marquez testified.
Prior to the shooting in the Spring of 1993, police had conducted an investigation into threats by Rudy Flores. According to Spencer, Flores had threatened to shoot Armando Lazo, one of the victims Daniel Villegas was convicted of killing. Marquez, on the stand, acknowledged that prior investigation.
"Did your investigation show that he (Rudy) would terrorize people in his neighborhood?" asked Spencer.
"No sir, he was a prominent member of a gang," Marquez answered.
"And what do prominent gang bangers do in their neighborhoods?" asked Spencer.
"I don't know, sir," said Marquez.
"In all of your experience as a detective, you're clueless about that?" Spencer asked.
"I don't know, sir," said Marquez.
"You don't know if you're clueless?" Spencer asked.
"I don't know what they do, sir," responded Marquez.
Spencer, in an interview later, said the clueless question was 'unprofessional' but added he was only frustrated because Villegas has already unfairly spent half of his life in prison.
The defense attorney's questioning of Marquez lasted more than seven intense hours. Spencer's line of questioning, at some points, caused audible reactions from the public at the hearing, such as laughter and gasps.
"Rudy told Armando he was going to get shot. Coincidence?" Spencer asked Marquez.
"I don't know sir... we investigated (that claim) sir," responded Marquez.
"What did you do in your investigation? You don't remember?" Spencer asked, seemingly agitated.
"I don't remember," said Marquez, causing several people in the courtroom to laugh. Judge Sam Medrano ordered the public to refrain from any sort of reactions to testimony.
Spencer, in court Thursday, showed that at the time Lazo and Robert England were murdered, Flores lived a couple of blocks away from the crime scene. Spencer also showed a statement given to police from Rudy's brother, Javier, who said his brother, Rudy, was not home when he arrived at their house at 12:30 A.M. the night of the murders.
Rudy, in a statement to police said he had gotten home at 12:30 A.M.
"Did you notice that there were inconsistencies?" asked Spencer.
"No, sir I didn't notice," responded Marquez, at one point, during cross examination.
"You notice it now?" asked Spencer.
"I read the statements, I didn't catch them (inconsistencies)," Marquez later responded.
"They haven't done anything today except rehash all the information that was already available for the defendant's first and second trial. None of this constitutes new evidence, which will not assist him in his innocence claim," said Prosecutor John Briggs, during an interview, after the questioning was finished.
The foreman for the jury that convicted Daniel has said he doesn't remember any of the new evidence and wishes he had known those details when they made their decision.
The defense focused Thursday on proving Marquez had conducted a poor investigation and coerced Villegas' confession.
Spencer also asked the former detective why he did not investigate a link between the deadly shooting of Lazo and England and another shooting that took place less than 24 hours later only a few blocks away. The shell casings at the scene of that shooting were from the same type of small-caliber weapon used in Lazo and England's deaths and Rudy Flores gave a statement to police placing himself in the area of that shooting, too.
Marquez said the second shooting was a separate case and he did not have much knowledge of it. The Police department did not run a ballistics test on the gun found at the scene of the second shooting.
In hindsight, would it have been better to run a ballistics test?" Spencer asked Marquez. "I can't answer that question", Marquez responded.
"Try to put your good detective hat on," Spencer later told Marquez. "I don't have one," responded the ex-detective. "I agree, you don't have one," Spencer commented.
The prosecution objected to Spencer's comment, which was then stricken from the record at the order of the judge.
Spencer also pointed out that Marquez didn't investigate the inconsistencies in Villegas' confession. The then 16-year-old had said two other teens, nicknamed Droopy and Popeye, were in the car with him the night of the shooting. However, one teen was in prison at the time, and the other was under electronic monitoring at home. Also, witnesses of the crime described a dark or maroon car as the vehicle the shooter was in, but Villegas said they were in his car, which was beige.
"Because you didn't do your job, you were not able to verify that what Daniel's confession said was factually impossible," Spencer told Marquez, who said he believed he had done nothing wrong when handling Villegas' case.
Another major contention of the defense is that Marquez tried to coerce another teenager into confessing. Jesse Hernandez, a friend of the victims and a witness to the shootings, in an exclusive interview with ABC-7, said Marquez tried to make him believe he killed his friends.
In separate interviews, both Villegas and Hernandez said Marquez, during hours of interrogation, nearly made them believe they blanked out and killed Lazo and England.
"He kept on saying it and saying it and I started thinking 'did I? i don't remember if I blanked out. Maybe I did and I don't remember because he kept on pushing and pushing", said Hernandez, in an interview last fall.
Villegas said a similar thing happened to him "I said maybe we just blacked out, man, because I can't see why these guys (detectives) would write these statement against me."
Hernandez said he still has nightmares about Marquez. He shared with ABC-7 that his life changed after the shooting and the interrogation. He said he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Marquez, in court on Thursday, first said he had no recollection of his conversation with Hernandez, then denied ever accusing Hernandez of killing his friends.
"Do you remember accusing him?" Spencer asked. "No sir, I do not," Marquez answered. "Do you remember that you did not accuse him?" Spencer continued. "I remember that I did not accuse him and I don't believe that I ever accused him. He was a witness and that's what he was," Marquez answered. "You just told me you didn't remember the interview with Jesse Hernandez, didn't you tell me that?" Spencer said. "Yes, sir I did," Marquez responded. "So how can you remember that you didn't accuse him of killing his two friends if you don't remember the conversation?" Spencer asked. "Because I never accused him," Marquez said.
"Just because all of these questions could have been asked by the attorney trying Villegas a second time doesn't have any bearing on whether or not the actual performance of that attorney was substandard or whether or not he was ineffective at the first trial", said Briggs, later in an interview.
"The problem with people not remembering what happened is not the problem of anything the D.A.'s office has done. The defendant in this case waited 16 years to file his writ, to start complaining about that he got ineffective counsel -- so any delay on this case is solely the fault of the defendant...So we're here having to deal with witnesses who don't remember anything because the defendant waited so long to file his writ," added Briggs.
But Villegas' mother, Yolanda Villegas, said they did not file the writ before because the family did not have money to hire attorneys. So far it's cost John Mimbela, the local contractor spearheading the effort to free Villegas, $200,000 to get this far.