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Daniel Villegas a free man after nearly two decades

By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- An El Paso man convicted of capital murder for shooting two teens in 1993 is set free Tuesday.

After nearly two decades in prison, family and friends are now able to hug Daniel Villegas, 27, because District Judge Sam Medrano granted him a $50,000 bond. It was a surprising amount to some people, since Defense Attorney Joe Spencer asked Medrano for a $100,000 bond.

"It feels wonderful. It feels like I'm dreaming right now and I'm going to wake up," said Daniel Villegas.

Daniel Villegas and his family said they were hoping for this outcome.

"I wasn't going to put my hopes up until I walked out the door like right now," said Daniel Villegas.

"I've had to hold in all the stress and the pressure of wondering if I would get to see him and now I know I will get to hold him again," said mother Yolanda Villegas.

While Daniel Villegas and his family shed tears of joy and spent the day celebrating, the fight to clear his name from a crime he says he didn't commit is far from over.

"The indictment is once again active so he's still charged with the double homicide, capital murder. So we can either continue on toward trial or at some point if we decide that's not the appropriate thing in this case then I suppose we could ask the court to dismiss the charges," said prosecuting attorney John Briggs.

Briggs said if charges are dropped it doesn't mean the District Attorney's Office considers Daniel Villegas innocent.

"It's a question of whether or not we have the proof 20 years after the fact," said Briggs.

Daniel Villegas was convicted of capital murder back in 1995 for the drive-by shooting deaths of Robert England and Armando Lazo in northeast El Paso. He first admitted to the crime, then recanted saying he was forced into the confession. Daniel Villegas was 16 years old when the shooting happened.

Daniel Villegas said he hopes the District Attorney Office doesn't retry the case.

"If they do that's going to be kind of sad -- nine judges voted for us and that right there is telling me that God got you this far," said Danielle Villegas.

But his parents said given District Attorney Jaime Esparza's previous attempts to replace Medrano and other fights, they aren't so sure what will happen.

"He's stuck on 'he's guilty, he's guilty' so he's one sided at this point you know he's not trying to see what we're trying to show here," said mother Yolanda Villegas.

Spencer said they are ready to go to trial if need be, claiming the evidence will speak for itself.

"We don't have any problems with trying the case," said Spencer.

For now, Villegas said he's trying not to focus on a possible retrial, but what life will be like out of prison.

"Now I can just wake up when I wake up and I don't got to wake up at three in the morning for breakfast," said Daniel Villegas.

Daniel Villegas and his attorney are expected to be in court on Jan. 21 for another hearing to discuss the possibility of a retrial.

Related:

The long journey home: Daniel Villegas

Daniel Villegas a free man after nearly two decades

Interview with Daniel Villegas following his release

El Paso man convicted of 1993 deaths granted bond

 

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