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Villegas' Attorney: Former Detective Trying To 'Bully' Client In Court

By Maria Garcia
Published On: Sep 07 2011 12:43:29 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 07 2011 08:29:53 AM CDT
EL PASO, Texas -

The second day of the writ hearing to determine if convicted killer Daniel Villegas should have another trial has been postponed until Thursday at 8:30 A.M.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys said the judge wants research to determine the legality of Al Marquez's testimony.

Marquez is the former El Paso Police detective who interrogated Villegas 18 years ago. Villegas, at the time 16, confessed to the shooting deaths of Armando Lazo and Robert England in Northeast El Paso.

"This hearing is supposed to be for new issues, new evidence, things like that. And it appears the defense wants to get into an area that we feel like has already been litigated," said Prosecutor John Briggs.

He said that the issue of whether Villegas' confession was voluntary has already been litigated in the first and second trials. Joe Spencer, Villegas' defense attorney, said Marquez did testify in the first and second trial, but the allegations of a coerced confession were never properly addressed.

"It was litigated very poorly, if at all, in the first and second trial. Certainly, this is an issue we need to get into, whether or not he used coercive tactics and whether or not Daniel's confession was voluntary. This is what this case is all about."

Defense attorneys argue Marquez coerced Villegas, who did not have an attorney present at the time of the interrogation, into confessing to the killings.

During an interview in a state prison in Abiline last November, Villegas, now 34, still became visibly shaken when he spoke about the interrogation.

"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.

Jesse Hernandez, a friend of the victims and witness to the crime, said in an interview last fall, that Marquez had also interrogated him after the shootings, had used coercive tactics, and nearly made him believe he had blanked out and killed his friends.

"He (Marquez) 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. Until this day, I have such an anger toward him (Marquez) because he left me with some nightmares and I'm a grown man", said Hernandez, last fall.

Hernandez told his parents of Marquez's alleged aggressive tactics, and he said his parents forbade Marquez from continuing to question their son without them or an attorney present.

ABC-7 requested an interview from Marquez during our investigation into the case last year. Marquez, now a court bailiff, refused to talk about Villegas' case. Spencer said it bothered him that Marquez, in court on Wednesday, stood close to Villegas.

"Al Marquez walked into the courtroom, he went over and stood right next to Daniel, which I found very offensive that he felt he had to impose his presence on him so close, I had to have Mr. Marquez move away from Daniel. So he continues to bully and intimidate Daniel even when he's not even able to testify."

Hours after the hearing, as Villegas supporters were holding a rally in front of the courthouse, Marquez also went outside the courthouse and smoked. ABC-7 approached him to give him an opportunity to respond to the allegations of bullying earlier in the day. "Let me smoke my cigarette in peace, I can't comment", Marquez said as he walked away from ABC-7 cameras.

Briggs maintains Marquez's testimony is not appropriate during the writ hearing.

"This is an issue that has already been litigated before the first trial, it was a first issue that was brought to the first jury, it was an issue that was brought up to the second jury and it was an issue that has already been reviewed by the court of appeals on his initial appeal," he said.

However, ABC-7 spoke with the foreman of the jury that convicted Villegas 18 years ago and he said he did not remember the defense mentioning the possibility of a coerced confession. "Where was this the first time around? Where was all of this evidence? And boy, if all of that is out there, this certainly needs to be revisited in a new trial", said Ben Hodge.

He said the defense did not present much of a case. "There was everything presented of why he was guilty and not really an awful lot of why he was innocent." The court-appointed attorney who defended Villegas when he was convicted submitted a letter to the court, stating he did not have enough time to prepare for the case.

"There was nothing on the defense. There was nothing presented to say this young man is innocent", said Hodge.

The former jury foreman said the trial mostly consisted of the prosecution's arguments and that made it less difficult to convict Villegas. "There were tears in the room and people saying, 'boy I just can't bear that we're putting this young man away for basically the rest of his life'. (And I said) 'We heard all the reasons but if anyone has even just a sliver of doubt, let's talk about it', and there was none", said Hodge.

Hodge said it was "extremely possible" an innocent man was sent to prison. "I wish I would have known that there was at least a possibility that it was coerced", he said, referring to the confession.

Spencer said he will provide research to the judge showing that Marquez's testimony is legal and appropriate for the writ hearing and said he hopes the district attorney's office will "not handcuff" their cross examination of the former police detective.

"The district attorney's office always wants to seek justice. One way of doing it, is let's see what he has to say and not prevent us from getting on the record. What harm is there for the judge to hear what Al Marquez did and how he obtained the confession from Daniel Villegas?" said Spencer.

Villegas' mother, Yolanda Villegas, said she became emotional when Marquez stood close to her son."This man (Marquez), even today, was trying to intimidate him (Daniel). It's like he's telling him (Daniel) 'I'm not afraid of you', standing behind him like 'look, this is how close I'll get to you because I know you can't touch me."

She began to cry as she talked about not having the money to hire an attorney for her son's second trial, and relying on a court-appointed attorney, who has admitted he needed more time to prepare for the case, and who the defense now argues, did not adequately defend Villegas.

"The guilt -- it always weighs on my heart. Mothers are supposed to protect their kids and I couldn't so it always bothers me. I remember my dad always telling me to get an education and if I made more money, I probably could have done more."

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