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Before there was Daniel Villegas, there was Chris Ochoa
By: Elizabeth O'Hara
Ochoa, an El Paso resident, spent more than 11 years of his life behind bars following the murder of an Austin woman in 1988. In 2002 he was exonerated, and the Wisconsin Innocence Project began investigating his claim of innocence and forced confession by an Austin police officer.
On the day of his release Ochoa was embraced by friends and family who worried they might never get the chance to do that again. In the years following his freedom, Ochoa became an attorney as well. He says he was contacted by John Mimbela, a close family friend of Villegas, and saw many similarities between the two cases.
"I saw it firsthand and I just when I read the material Mr. Mimbela sent me I thought, 'OK, I'll get on board,'" he said in an exclusive interview with KFOX14 Tuesday night.
Ochoa says though he was a free man, he didn't live that way.
"I was worried they would come lock me up, set me up. Those things run through your mind," he said.
Ochoa says Villegas will be shocked by many of the things that have changed during his lock up. He says technology, especially cellphones, will astound Villegas.
"Now they're like mini-computers!" Ochoa said.
Ochoa said while Villegas and his family enjoy their time together, they are guaranteed rough days ahead. Ochoa says it will be especially trying for them since District Attorney Jaime Esparza has not announced whether he will move to trial a third time. Ochoa believes Esparza is making a mistake.
"His job is not to convict. His job is to find the truth. So him retrying it, it's politics. If he's going to retry it, it's politics. I just don't see anything all the evidence is pretty much out of the water."
Ochoa's biggest advice to Villegas: get a therapist. He said it will take time to understand how to have a healthy relationship, take orders from an employer and to relax. He said it took him a decade to get that point.