The El Paso District Attorney’s Office is out of options in the case against Daniel Villegas. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued its final ruling on Wednesday, dismissing the State’s petition for discretionary review.
The State’s highest appeals court decision means that the district court will receive the case in 20 days, and District Judge Sam Medrano can schedule Villegas’ re-trial on his docket as soon as June or July.
The ruling ends a years-long battle between Villegas’ legal team and the District Attorney to include several key pieces of evidence including several jailhouse phone calls which the DA argues point to Villegas’ guilt.
One of those calls included comments made to his mother and a friend where Villegas refers to himself as “a sinner.”
A second recording is between Villegas and El Paso businessman John Mimbela, who was at the center of the campaign to have Villegas released from prison. In the call, the DA argues that the two allegedly discussed bribing witnesses who were set to testify at Villegas’ appeal trial in order to change testimony.
Defense Attorney Joe Spencer argued the recordings showed no conspiracy to bribe any of the witnesses and were therefore inadmissible in the State’s re-trial against Villegas.
In January 2015, Judge Sam Medrano ruled that the jailhouse phone calls were inadmissible. District Attorney Jaime Esparza appealed the ruling to Texas’ Eighth District Court of Appeals, which affirmed Medrano’s ruling.
The DA’s office then requested a ruling from Texas’ highest State Court of Criminal Appeals. In June 2017, the State Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Esparza’s request for Discretionary Review needed further clarification – a ruling that dragged the case out even further.
Wednesday, the Court of Criminal Appeals released its final ruling, in part saying they examined the record and briefs and concluded their decision to grant review was improvident – or lacking merit.
“We therefore dismiss the State’s petition for discretionary review as improvidently granted,” the ruling states.
Jaime Esparza, El Paso County District Attorney released the following statement to KTSM Wednesday afternoon after the Court of Criminal Appeals ruling was released:
“We are disappointed that the Court of Criminal Appeals declined to hear our appeal. In light of the Court’s ruling, we will assess our options to determine the appropriate next step.”
-Jaime Esparza, El Paso District Attorney
Villegas was accused of murder in the 1993 drive-by shooting of Robert England and Armando Lazo in Northeast El Paso. His first trial in 1994 ended in a mistrial. He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison during a 1995 retrial.
He was released on appeal in January 2014 and has since been awaiting retrial – which District Attorney Jaime Esparza has said in the past that he intends to pursue.
The Villegas case was featured on an episode of Dateline NBC in 2016.