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.