Texas man imprisoned 20 years for two killings released for new trial

Daniel Villegas, in prison for nearly 20 years for two drive-by shootings, was released on bond on Tuesday to await a new trial KDBC El Paso/File photo

EL PASO, Texas - A West Texas man convicted of killing two people as a teenager in 1993 was released on bond Tuesday while he awaits a new trial that the state had ordered.

After spending nearly 20 years in prison for the killings of two teenagers in a drive-by shooting, Daniel Villegas stood in the morning sun outside the El Paso County Jail.

"I never thought this day would come and now it's here. It feels like a dream, like I'm going to wake up," the 37-year-old told a crowd of reporters and sympathizers.

Villegas was flanked by his mother, Yolanda Villegas, and local businessman John Mimbela, who has supported his case. Villegas was released Tuesday after posting $1,000 of a $50,000 bond.

"This is too much for me. I get to hold him again. I've waited too long," Yolanda Villegas said while tears rolled down her cheeks.

Daniel Villegas first trial for the deaths of teenagers Armando Lazo and Robert England ended in a hung jury. He was found guilty in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison.

But at hearings in 2011, Villegas' 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.

The Texas Court of Appeals in December granted Villegas a new trial due to ineffective counsel.

Villegas has claimed he confessed to the crime after an El Paso Police Department detective told him he would be raped in prison and face the death penalty.

"Why did it take so long to get a new trial? Money, I didn't have the money," his mother said. She thanked Mimbela for footing the legal bills and "for putting up with me, I can be annoying."

The Villegas lost their house because of the debt they took during the first trial, she added. "I earn minimum wage. I didn't have the $20,000 to begin (the process of getting a new trial), and even if I did, that was just to start," Villegas' mother said.

The Texas Court of Appeals in December granted Villegas a new trial due to ineffective counsel.

State District Judge Sam Medrano Jr. set a hearing for next week so the attorneys can tell them what they plan to do next.

Villegas' attorney, Joe Spencer said he believes the prosecution "has no evidence to go on with this case."

The judge set bond at half of what Spencer had originally suggested. Prosecutors requested bond be set in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The district attorney's office declined to comment after the hearing.

Villegas left jail in a 1960s red convertible provided by Mimbela.

"We're going to go to church real quick, to pray," Villegas said.

Then, "it's steak, steak and lobster for my baby," his mom said.

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