Monday, August 25, 2014 - 5:28pm

El Paso businessman: I can't let that happen to an innocent person


POSTED: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 7:25pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 7:26pm

John Mimbela explains why he helped accused killer

For the first time in almost 20 years -- once convicted killer Daniel Villegas awoke Wednesday morning -- a free man.

The 37-year-old was released on bond yesterday -- in large part thanks to one El Paso businessman who has spent the last seven years and close to a million dollars fighting for his release.

It was a picture of Villegas right after he was sentenced to life in prison that moved John Mimbela to help him. The picture, Mimbela explained, captures an innocent man learning of a fate that he didn't deserve.

The emotion captured in the picture moved John Mimbela so much -- "I've seen other people react to when they're found guilty and I've never seen one so convincing that this person is innocent is in total shock,” John Mimbela, an El Paso businessman and one of Daniel Villegas’s biggest supporters told us. He decided to fight for Villegas.

"I was just in shock. I didn't believe this would happen in America,” Daniel Villegas, who is released on bond told us about the time he found out his life long prison sentence.

Mimbela thought the jury got it wrong. He didn't believe Villegas killed two teenage boys back in 1993."I just said I can't let that happen to an innocent person so that's why I fought so hard,” Mimbela explained.

The two men's lives crossed when Mimbela remarried and adopted three girls. "Their Dad happened to be Daniel's brother."

Mimbela is a lifelong El Pasoan who runs a multi-million dollar construction business. After spending time with the Villegas family -- he decided to fight for Daniel -- even though the odds were against him. "When I did get started seven years ago, everybody told me that, you know, we had a slim and none chance to get Daniel out."

They've been working together for seven years and now that Villegas is out of prison they're getting ready to work even closer together.

"Labor work, concrete finisher, form setter, truck driver, we're going to find something for him."

And it's not just Daniel's transition into the real world they're preparing for. "We want to start up this proclaim justice want to start getting as many people as we can out of here,” Villegas said. He also told us he’d like to volunteer at the local hospitals.

The two men are planning to open up a Proclaim Justice center in El Paso to help those, they say, have been wrongfully convicted.

As we've reported, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recommended Villegas receive a new trial. But the District Attorney's office has not yet said if they'll pursue one.

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