“You’ll never be the same,” Daniel Villegas opens up on life after 2018 trial

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Sometimes at night, Daniel Villegas would wake up and knock on the walls of his home or, wherever he was staying, and check to see if he wasn’t dreaming. He would check to see if he truly was free and not in prison.

Villegas spent 20 years in jail after he was wrongfully convicted of capital murder in the fatal shootings of two El Pasoans in 1993. An El Paso jury found Villegas not guilty of capital murder in October 2018.

But, Villegas says he still lives with challenges stemming from the case three years later. He gave an emotional account of his life after being acquitted.

“It’s an effect that lasts for a lifetime,” he told an auditorium at the University of Texas at El Paso on Friday.

“Everything you do, even right now that I am exonerated, I can’t even go to school for my kids and be there for them because they say ‘well, this comes up on your record.’ And, I tell them, look, it says I am acquitted. And, they say it doesn’t matter ‘you’ve been charged with capital murder, we don’t want you on the school premises.”

Villegas was one of several key speakers during a discussion on “false confessions,” or an admission of guilt for a crime that an individual did not commit.

The speakers included El Paso attorney Joe Spencer, Misty Duke an assistant professor of criminal justice intelligence and national security studies, Laura Nirider the Co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, David Asma, and Detective Matt Jones of Tempe, Arizona. The event was hosted by the El Paso County Public Defenders Office.

Spencer and Villegas were the final speakers during the discussion. And, the two reviewed Villegas’ case, where they discussed the interrogation practices of the El Paso Police Department in 1993.

They focused on former EPPD detective Al Marquez, and investigators who compiled accounts of a shooting in the Northeast on April 10, 1993. Spencer explained he found inconsistencies in police accounts of the shooting on the intersection of Oakwood and Electric streets.

Robert England, 18, and Armando Lazo, 17 died from gunshot wounds.

Spencer also pointed to inconsistencies in taped recordings of conversations between Villegas and his families during the time he was in jail.

But in addition to explaining his case, Villegas told the auditorium it is still challenging for someone who is acquitted to go back to life outside of jail. And, that opportunities close to those with a record.

Villegas says it is hard to trust others and do routine processes like getting a drivers license because of the experience he has had.

He said he receives threats on social media and through emails. And, that it is difficult to adjust to life after being in jail for so long.

“In my mind, I was going to die in prison,” he said. “After like a year, or so, you start realizing how much they took from you.”

Villegas mentioned his daughter was a teenager and did not want to be around him because he wasn’t able to be around. And, throughout the years, his friends had moved on and grown into their lives.

Now, Villegas says he is working for a law firm. He is employed with the Christina Montes Law Firm, according to his Facebook.

“We need to focus more on people before they go to trial and get convicted,” he said. “Because once you get convicted and are in prison, you come out, and you’re never the same. That’s why it’s so important for all the defense attorneys, for everybody to do their job right.”

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