POSTED: Thursday, January 6, 2011 - 5:45pm
UPDATED: Friday, January 7, 2011 - 10:59am
Daniel Villegas has spent more than half of his life in jail and his parents are demanding a retrial.
Daniel Villegas was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting deaths of two El Pasoans in 1993. But he says he was coerced into a confession and is innocent.
Daniel's parents say he was too young - and too scared - for the confession to be considered valid. But a jury didn't agree when they convicted him of murder. Now, his parents are exhausting all avenues to give their son a second chance.
"Two teenagers, Robert England and Armando Lazo were murdered on April 10 of 1993," said Prisciliano Villegas, Daniel's father. The victims were walking back from a party in northeast El Paso when a drive by shooter killed them.
"My son was wrongfully accused of the murders," Prisciliano said. The conviction came down in 1995. Prisciliano says Daniel was joking around with friends, saying he did it, and word reached police. Daniel, who had two misdemeanors on his record at the time, has been in jail since he was 16.
"It put a halt on our lives, and on our dreams," Prisciliano said. He says police coerced Daniel into confessing by threatening him with the electric chair.
"They told my son they were going to take him out to the desert and beat him, he would be taken to a place where there would be fat man that would rape him," Prisciliano said.
Yolando Villegas, Daniel's mother, says they weren't given a fair trial.
"We had a court-appointed lawyer, because I couldn't come up with the money in a year's time, but he didn't bring any witnesses up to the stand," Yolanda said.
She also says prosecutors only had Daniel's confession, which didn't match the witnesses' description of the scene. They filed an appeal but were denied, and also filed a motion to present new evidence, but were denied.
"You feel guilty, because I should've protected him, because he was a minor," Yolanda said in tears.
This week, commemorating Daniel's birthday, supporters held signs outside the county courthouse that read, 'Free Daniel.' Back at their home, Prisciliano and Yolanda have a room ready for their son for the day they hope he will be exonerated.
"The holidays are harder, you're trying to pretend you're happy because you don't want to ruin it for anyone else," Yolanda said.
"We had always talked about, you know, starting up a shop on our own, but it never happened," Prisciliano said emotionally.
The District Attorney has replied to the Villegas,' saying the confession was voluntary and the trial was fair. The Innocence Project of Texas is now looking into Daniel's case.