April 1993, in El Paso, Texas, Daniel Villegas was only 16 years when he was arrested and later convicted of a double murder he did not commit. Without the presence of his parents or an attorney, he was interrogated for hours late into the night. He was threatened with the death penalty and told he would be taken to the county jail to get raped if he did not confess, which he eventually did. Daniel went to trial in 1995 with a court appointed attorney, John Gates, who was given 60 days to prepare for the trial. Mr. Gates was assigned a private investigator 6 days before Daniel’s trial. Unprepared, he went to trial, called one witness to the stand and failed to call 18 available defense witnesses, including Daniel’s alibis. Without any physical evidence or eye witnesses tying Daniel to this crime, the prosecution relied solely on Daniel’s confession, which was full of impossible and false facts. Daniel has always maintained that his confession was false and coerced by Detective Al Marquez, a harsh and relentless interrogator. Nevertheless, after a 3 day trial, Daniel was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Our judicial system that is supposed to guarantee us the right to a fair trial failed Daniel. He has now been in prison for 20 years. After years of investigating this case, we believe in Daniel’s innocence. With the help of private investigator Freddie Bonilla, with 40 years in law enforcement, we have gathered overwhelming facts that were never presented in Daniel’s murder trial which prove his innocence. As a homicide detective of 20 years, Mr. Bonilla stated, “There is no way Daniel could have committed this crime.” After researching Daniel’s case, the Northwestern Law Center on Wrongful Conviction of Youth from Chicago, Illinois and Dr. Richard Leo, a world famous expert on false confessions from San Francisco, also believe in Daniel’s innocence. Moreover, Daniel recently passed a polygraph test with flying colors. Even Attorney John Gates recently concluded that he was indeed ‘ineffective’ in representing Daniel. He admits missing many key factors that could have made a difference in the outcome of Daniel’s trial. After attending and hearing the overwhelming evidence in Daniel’s evidentiary hearings that was never presented in Daniel’s first trials, Ben Hodge, the foreman of the jury that convicted Daniel, agrees Daniel is innocent and deserves a new trial.
After a 2012 hearing, Judge Sam Medrano, Jr. recommended Daniel receive a new trial. We are waiting on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to rule on the judge’s recommendation. We call on the CCA to not only order a new trial for Daniel, but to do it posthaste. Each day they wait is another day an innocent man spends behind bars.