Villegas case delayed again following key ruling by Texas’ highest appeals court

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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a key ruling Tuesday in the case against Daniel Villegas. The ruling has granted the El Paso District Attorney, Jaime Esparza, a Petition for Discretionary Review, essentially stating that they found the DA’s legal argument an issue that needs further clarification.

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, but he was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison during his second trial in 1995.

He was released on appeal appeal in January 2014 and has since been awaiting a retrial – which District Attorney Jaime Esparza has said he intends to pursue.

At issue is a number of jailhouse phone calls, which the DA says that Villegas made comments to his mother and a friend which he refers to himself as “a sinner.”

A second recording between Villegas and El Paso businessman John Mimbela, who spearheaded the effort to get Villegas released from prison, where the two allegedly talked about bribing witnesses who were set to testify in Villegas’ appeal trial in order to change testimony in favor of Villegas.

Villegas’ attorney argued that the recordings showed no conspiracy to bribe any of the witnesses.

In January 2015, Judge Medrano ruled that the jailhouse phone calls were inadmissible in the case. Later, the DA appealed Texas Eight District Court of Appeals, which affirmed Medrano’s ruling. The DA then requested a ruling from  Texas’ highest State Court of Criminal Appeals to have the jailhouse recordings admitted into evidence.

Wednesday’s ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals does not overturn Judge Medrano’s ruling, but it does mean that the case against Villegas is again pushed back another four to five months while the Discretionary Review process is complete. 

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