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Convicted murderer Daniel Villegas not released as anticipated Friday

By: Genevieve Curtis

EL PASO, Texas-- Convicted murderer Daniel Villegas thought he was going home Friday.

The day started as planned. Signs supporting Villegas lined the entrance to the courthouse, A 'Quest for Justice' bus circled the block.

"This poor boy has been in jail for almost 20 years and it's time to let him out," said Villegas' attorney, Joe Spencer.

It was the best Christmas gift Villegas' mother, Yolanda, could have hoped to receive. Nearly 20 years after her son was first sent to prison an appeals court set aside his conviction and ordered he receive a new trial.

Yolanda Villegas said she checks the appeals court website every Wednesday and on this Wednesday, the last before Christmas, justice delivered.

"His name was the first one on it, I fell to the ground, screaming like a psychopath," said Villegas.

As KFOX14 has reported, a jury convicted Villegas in 1995 of killing two teens, Armando Lazo and Robert England in a 1993 drive by shooting in Northeast El Paso. The shooting happened when he was just 16 years old.

He has always maintained his confession was coerced.

"This is one of the most conservative courts in the country that unanimously decided that this case needs to come back. I think that speaks volumes," said Spencer

Friday morning, the Villegas family crowded the courtroom, hope roaring at an all-time high. Daniel, just hours from release, was almost home, plans had already been made.

"We wanted to take him somewhere nice to eat, he wanted to go to Chico's Tacos but I kept telling him Chico's was going to have to wait," said Yolanda Villegas.

But if the last 20 years has taught them anything, when it comes to the courts it's never quite that simple.

"I'm just so disappointed," said his sister, Michelle Pena.

Judge Sam Medrano told the family, no bond hearing would be happening. He has not received the mandate yet from the court of appeals and therefore does not have jurisdiction.

It means Daniel won't be home for Christmas.

"He was so positive that I was sad, but once I saw him I felt way better. He was like 'I have a date, I can do it standing on my head, I'm fine,'" said Yolanda Villegas, describing the brief meeting she had with her son after court.

Now, the bond hearing will likely happen sometime around Jan. 13.

"You can make it if you know what day it is -- you know and that's what helps," said Yolanda Villegas.

The appeals court didn't go so far as to declare Villegas innocent, meaning the District Attorney's office can and might re-try him.

"When we didn't get the actual innocence I thought, it's not over, it's not over yet," said Pena.

The DA's office said they are still examining their options and have not made a decision.

"I'm hoping we don't have a trial, but if we do I know we are very well prepared for it. We've got very good lawyers, and we have a lot of supporters this time and we aren't alone," said Yolanda Villegas.

There was some debate as to whether the DA's office could have granted bail to Villegas regardless of the mandate from the court of appeals. Spencer told reporters he believed the DA's office had the authority to do so. However, DA Jaime Esparza, told KFOX14 that is simply not true. Esparza said they could not do anything without the mandate from the court of appeals because right now the court of appeals has jurisdiction.



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