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Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 19:45
EL PASO — He's been fighting for a retrial for 17 years and now, convicted killer Daniel Villegas is one step closer to getting one. On Thursday, a state district judge announced Villegas should get a retrial.
Villegas cried and people in the courtroom cheered after State District Judge Sam Medrano announced his recommendation that Villegas deserves a new trial.
Villegas' family members said they're relieved.
"It's a great feeling but it wasn't until the decision was announced that the feeling was the opposite, it was a terrible feeling," said father Prisciliano Villegas.
"I was very worried but I'm so happy. I'm thrilled," said mother Yolanda Villegas.
Villegas said he was wrongfully convicted of a double murder in northeast El Paso in 1993. He said an El Paso Police Department detective forced him to falsely confess to the shooting that killed Armando Lazo and Robert England.
In 1995, a jury found Villegas guilty. A judge sentenced him to life in prison. Since then, Villegas has maintained his innocence.
"I don't wish this upon anyone it's terrible. It's like a nightmare you can't wake up from," said Prisciliano Villegas. "It could have gone either way but we're just thankful it went the way it did. This is not the end of the road but we're one step closer."
Judge Medrano will send his findings to the Court of Criminal Appeals. In an 78-page motion, judge Medrano wrote "the applicant in this case has satisfied the standard for actual innocence." Medrano also said Villegas' attorney did not have enough time to prepare for trial in 1995. It said a new trial is merited because confessions were coerced and unreliable.
Villegas attorney, Joe Spencer said Judge Medrano made a courageous decision and he believes the Court of Criminal Appeals will agree.
"I believe there is a greater likelihood that they will adopt his recommendations. I've read the conclusion. I've read some of it. We were back there some of it explaining it to Daniel. It's a very strong recommendation. We are hopeful and we will continue to pray that they will adopt the judge's findings and give Daniel a new trial."
Spencer said it could be months or up to a year before the Court of Criminal Appeals makes a decision.