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.