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Home | Tag Archives: daniel villegas

Tag Archives: daniel villegas

Closing Arguments in Villegas Trial Set to Begin

Just over two days after the third trial against Daniel Villegas began, the state has rested their case. Prosecutors called their last witness early Thursday morning and later rested their case against Villegas.

After the prosecution reseted their case, the courtroom sat on the edge of their seat as defense attorneys argued for a directed verdict in the case, claiming that there was not a scintilla of evidence against Villegas and it should not be presented to the jury.

Medrano denied the motion and ordered Spencer to move forward with his defense.

Judge Sam Medrano released the jury for a short break and upon return, defense attorney Joe Spencer rested his case without calling any defense witnesses. Closing arguments are set to begin at 3 p.m. after an extended lunch period.

The first witness Thursday morning was Consuela ‘Connie’ Padilla, who was a gas station cashier who allegedly had an interaction with Villegas back in 1995. Padilla currently works with the corrections department in California where she lives.

While under oath, Padilla denies remembering anything about an initial statement to investigators or ever meeting Villegas. She told the defense that she was never called to give a statement after 1995, indicating that she had not been called in any of the prior trials.

Spencer objected to the prosecution’s motion to enter her 1995 statement into the record since she had no recollection of ever making it in the first place. Judge Medrano agreed with Spencer and threw out Padilla’s 1995 statement.

The court was never made aware what was said in her initial statement.

Prosecutors then called their final witness Oscar Gomez. At the time of the shooting in 1993, Gomez was a friend of Villegas’s from the neighborhood. Gomez claimed that he didn’t speak to Villegas much at the time because he had a newborn daughter. He did, however, hang out with him once in 1995.

At the time, Villegas had just been convicted of murder in the second trial against him and was out on bond, a fact that the jury was not privy too. Gomez said the two met up because “he told me that was the last time I’d see him. He said he was going to prison. Gomez then asked Villegas ‘if he did it.’

Prosecutors then questioned Gomez as to Villegas’ response, Gomez said he doesn’t remember if Villegas said yes or no or shook his head.

Later, in 2014, after Villegas’ case had been overturned by the judge and he was released pending trial, Gomez was arrested by El Paso Police. According to Gomez, they picked him up on several traffic warrants and took him to the EPPD Headquarters on Raynor.

While in police custody in 2014, Gomez made a taped statement to El Paso Police Detective Sanchez implicating Daniel in the shooting.

During a cross-examination by Spencer, Gomez claimed that he was at the police station for two hours before the taped statement was taken. During that time, Gomez alleges that Det. Sanchez told him that he’d be released from his warrants if he made a statement saying that Villegas told him he was the shooter.

Gomez claimed the only reason he made a statement implicating Villegas was because he believed that’s what Det. Sanchez wanted and it was the only way he was going to get out of going to jail on his prior warrants.

Villegas is standing trial for the third time in the drive-by shooting murders of Armando ‘Mando’ Lazo and Robert ‘Bobby’ England. Both were slain as they were walking home from a party along Electric Street (now Girl Scout Way) in Northeast El Paso on April 10, 1993.

In 1994 a mistrial was declared in the first case against him. A second jury convicted him and sentenced him to life in prison in 1995. Villegas spent 18 years behind bar before his conviction was overturned on evidence that his taped police confession was coerced by El Paso Police Detective Al Marquez.

This is now the third trial against Villegas. The District Attorney offered Villegas an Alford Plea, meaning he would maintain his innocence but plead guilty in the case and be released on time served. Villegas opted not to take the plea and instead take his chance with the jury that they would find him innocent, thus releasing him from a felony record.

This is a developing story. Any updates will be posted as soon as they occur.  To read previous stories, click here.

Testimony Begins in Third Trial Against Daniel Villegas

Opening statements in the third trial against Daniel Villegas began in a packed 409th District Court Tuesday morning.

Villegas is accused of killing Armando Lazo and Robert England during a drive-by shooting in Northeast El Paso on April 10, 1993.

Eight women and five men were seated as the jury on Monday by Judge Sam Medrano. Early disputes between the prosecution and defense included whether or not John Mimbela could be called to the stand as a witness for the prosecution.

Mimbela was instrumental in the release of Villegas, after arguing that Villegas’ taped jailhouse confession at the age of 16 was coerced by EPPD officer Al Marquez.

Prosecutor Denise Butterworth argued to Judge Medrano that Mimbela should be removed from the courtroom as a pending witness. The judge ultimately ruled to swear Mimbela in as a potential witness, but did not order him to leave the courtroom during proceedings.

The trial is being framed as if it is the first-time Villegas has been on trial, and the jury was not told of the history or prior conviction in the case. Medrano has taken careful steps to ensure that prior testimony is not entered into evidence, potentially swaying the jury.

The prosecution is hoping that several witnesses who say Villegas admitted he was the triggerman back in 1993 will be enough to have him convicted of murder for a second time.

Spencer attempted to create reasonable doubt in the case from the onset of his opening arguments. Spencer argued that two brothers who ran in a gang along Fairbanks Ave. were responsible for the murders. According to Spencer’s opening statement, Rudy Flores admitted to being at a house party on Jamaica St. near the location where Lazo, England and two friends, Jessie Hernandez and Juan Medina were hanging out.

Witnesses at the time claim that Flores had previously threatened to kill Lazo. Rudy Flores was also at the scene of a second shooting less than 24-hours after the shooting about a block from his home.

Much of Tuesday morning’s testimony was from police officers and crime scene detectives who responded to the scene in 1993. The jury was shown diagrams and photographs from the scene on Electric and Oakwood (now Girl Scout Way and Oakwood).

The images depicted shell casings recovered at the scene and graphic photographs of England, who had been shot in the head and was lying dead in an adjacent field.

During a particularly interesting part of the morning’s testimony, prosecutor Denise Butterworth assumed the position of two now-deceased eye witnesses in the case. She sat in the witness box as co-counsel read questions and she recited Nancy and George Gorham’s responses from previous statements collected in the 1990s verbatim.

The Gorhams were the homeowners who first called 9-1-1 at 12:18 a.m. on April 10 after hearing gunshots outside their bedroom window.

Upon opening the door, they found Armando Lazo, bleeding from his abdomen, collapsed on their doorstep. Nancy Gorham was a teacher at Andress High School at the time of the shooting and recognized Lazo as a boy who attended the high school.

The couple were unaware that a second victim was dead in a field across the street from their home.

Villegas’ first trial ended in a hung jury and his second trial resulted in a life sentence. Villegas served 19-years in prison after the 1995 murder conviction, but he was released pending a new trial in 2014.

The District Attorney’s Office offered Villegas a plea deal just before the trial for a guilty plea in exchanged for time-served. Villegas declined the plea.

The trial will resume Wednesday morning.

El Paso DA Race Highlights 1993 Double Murder Case

The fate of an El Paso man accused of two murders in 1993 could hinge on the outcome of the Democratic primary in the race for El Paso County district attorney on March 1.

Daniel Villegas is accused of gunning down two teenagers in a drive-by shooting as they and two friends were leaving a party early April 10, 1993. Robert England, 18, and Armando Lazo, 17, died from gunshot wounds. Jesse Hernandez, 17 at the time, and Juan Medina, who was 18, survived.

At the time, El Paso police went through several persons of interest, according to court papers, but focused on Villegas, who was 16, after his cousin said during an interrogation that Villegas jokingly bragged about killing the teens with a shotgun. Villegas himself confessed after interrogation. His supporters say the confession was coerced and did not match the actual details of the crime or survivors’ statements.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza twice personally prosecuted Villegas, now 39. After a mistrial in 1994 and an overturned conviction from a life sentence in 1995, Esparza is pushing for a third trial and conviction that will stick, though assistant district attorneys are handling the case directly this time.

His pursuit of a conviction has been called into question by his two primary opponents. Challenger Yvonne Rosales said she would review the case before taking a position. But Leonard “Lenny” Morales said after years of following the case, if elected he would send the case back to El Paso police to investigate others or build a stronger case against Villegas.

“I would not pursue it,” Morales said.

Morales shares the position of many people in El Paso who, if they missed a 2015 episode of NBC’s Dateline about Villegas, have likely attended, seen or heard about a rally or billboards throughout town proclaiming his innocence. El Paso businessman John Mimbela is behind that campaign and funds Villegas’ legal defense.

Mimbela became invested after marrying the mother of Villegas’ nieces. He’s amassed the help of expert witnesses, exonerated individuals, lawyers, investigators and innocence group Proclaim Justice.

“There’s no way that the kid could have done that,” he said he recalled thinking after reviewing the case. Mimbela and supporters point to a shooting in the same area before April 10. The same type of weapon used to kill England and Lazo was used in the previous crime, they say. The actual killer might have been involved in both crimes, they allege.

But police have clung to the confession, said Joe Spencer, Villegas’ lead attorney. And police used physical, mental and emotional abuse to get that confession, his client alleges. As a new trial looms, Villegas’ attorneys have advised him to not give interviews.

“When you don’t have forensic evidence, when you don’t have physical evidence, when you don’t have eyewitness testimony, the easy way for the police department to solve a case is through a confession,” Spencer said. “And once they beat this young boy’s confession out of him, in their mind, case closed.”

Villegas told his cousin that he committed the murders, Esparza said.

“They have said now he was bragging, but he did tell his cousin that he committed the murders and that’s why the investigation focused on him,” the district attorney said. “And after all of these years, the alibis still don’t match.”

On the campaign trail, Esparza and Rosales have hit Morales on his position.

“I don’t know how anybody who wants to be district attorney can make a decision on such a complicated and important case on day one,” Esparza said.

Rosales said she’s the only one of the three who hasn’t taken a side in the Villegas case.

“I’m the only candidate who’s neutral,” she said. “I don’t have anything at stake in this case.”

Rosales said if elected, Villegas’ case would be one of the first to get her attention.

“I need to read the transcripts from A to Z,” she said. “I need to read the case from beginning to end and see and make an independent evaluation if I in fact think that that case merits going to trial, if there’s sufficient evidence. If there is not, I will not have a problem dismissing the case. But if there is sufficient evidence, then we need to do the right thing and pursue with trial.”

Both Esparza and Rosales have also criticized Morales’ position because Mimbela has endorsed him. The businessman said his support was not contingent upon Morales taking a position.

“Leonard is not a politician,” Mimbela said. “He said what he felt was correct. And like he said, everybody in El Paso’s seen this case. It’s open record.”

Morales said the public deserves to know what he thinks about cases and shouldn’t have to wait for him to get into office to reveal his opinions. In Villegas’ case, unless more information is introduced, there is no case, he said.

“Right now,” Morales said, “we have nothing.”

A state district judge recommended in 2012 that Villegas get a new trial after determining he had ineffective legal counsel during his second trial and that he was actually innocent. Villegas had a public defender.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed the following year that Villegas had a bad lawyer but did not agree that he was actually innocent, saying Villegas should have a new trial to determine innocence or guilt. Villegas was released on bond in 2014.

The third trial was set to begin last January but has stalled after the judge ruled that Villegas’ telephone conversations from when he was in jail and prison cannot be used at trial. The judge ruled that the confession could not be used at trial, either. Esparza’s office has appealed the suppression of the telephone conversations to the 8th Court of Appeals.

“There are no more direct links between Daniel Villegas and the victims here,” Morales said. “It just doesn’t match up.”

Villegas has lost two decades of his life to the case, Rosales acknowledged.

“But by the same token,” she said, “in the end, we still have two dead teenagers.”

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

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