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3rd murder trial of Daniel Villegas indefinitely delayed after defense granted continuance

By Leonard Martinez
Published On: Apr 17 2014 04:08:17 PM CDT
Updated On: Nov 26 2014 09:09:25 PM CST

KVIA

Daniel Villegas, in light gray suit, talks with his defense attorney Joe Spencer, back to camera, and his support, John Mimbela, right, before his hearing on April 17, 2014.

EL PASO, Texas -

The May 28 trial date for Daniel Villegas' new murder trial has been indefinitely postponed.

Judge Sam Medrano Jr. on Thursday afternoon granted the defense's motion for a continuance because the prosecution recently turned over 1,000 of Villegas' jail phone calls that could each be up to 45 minutes long.

Joe Spencer, Villegas' defense attorney, told the judge they had not had the time to listen to the calls and questioned that all of the calls were relevant to the case.

Spencer told ABC-7 after the hearing that the defense had already gone through 400 hours of separate jail phone calls that were turned over by the prosecution and found there was nothing relevant in them.

An April 21 hearing, originally meant to be an evidentiary hearing, will now be a meeting between the judge and both parties to schedule evidentiary and motion to suppress hearings and possibly set a new trial date.

Medrano told the court he would like the case to go to trial this year - whether it's summer, fall, or winter.

As for the 1,000 phone calls, Medrano expressed his hope that both sides can come to an agreement on which calls are relevant so they would not have to listen to every call and decide on relevance of the calls in court.

Medrano estimated that would take 12 weeks of just listening to the calls.

"This court is always prepared to do that," Medrano said before adding he doesn't think anyone wants to go through that.

Right at the beginning of the hearing, Medrano kicked two people out of the courtroom for wearing "Free Danny" T-shirts.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in December overturned the convictions of  Villegas, agreeing that he had ineffective counsel at his second trial. The 37-year-old Villegas was released on bond a month later after 18 years in prison.
    
Villegas was sentenced in 1995 to life imprisonment in the deaths of two teenagers in an El Paso drive-by shooting. His first trial for the deaths of teenagers Armando Lazo and Robert England ended in a hung jury.
    
Earlier this year, Spencer asked the judge to suppress the confession to an El Paso police detective because it was made under coercion and duress. Villegas claims he confessed because the police detective said he would be raped in prison and would face the death penalty.
    
At hearings in 2011, Villegas' trial attorney, John Gates, said he hadn't had enough time to prepare for the second trial. The defense for the first trial had called 18 witnesses; Gates presented just one.

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