A once convicted murderer who claims he was forced to confess to a crime he didn’t commit, will go before a jury — again.
Monday is the start of Daniel Villegas’ third murder trial. Jury selection should take most of Monday and opening statements should begin Tuesday morning.
Daniel Villegas is a name many El Pasoans know.
He was only 16 years old when he confessed to killing two teenagers in a 1993 drive-by shooting in Northeast El Paso.
The highest court in Texas would later rule that the confession was coerced and his conviction was overturned.
To the surprise of many Villegas supporters, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza went after Villegas for a third trial. His first ended in a hung jury, but it was after the second that he was convicted.
“I was hoping it wasn’t going to go to a third trial,” Villegas said.
A few months ago, an appeals court ruled that Villegas’ jailhouse phone calls would not be allowed as evidence in the new trial.
This time the confession won’t be allowed either.
But this time, Villegas has a lot more on the line, a wife and three kids.
“I always think to myself, is this going to be the last day that I have with them?” he said. “Am I going to wake up in October, and I’m going to be in a jail cell waiting to get shipped off to prison?”
Villegas met his wife behind bars, during what he said was the hardest time of his life.
He was growing impatient. ready to give up, but the man helping fight for his freedom – John Mimbela – reminded him he was doing everything he could to help set him free.
“He was a young man who needed help, and I thank God that he put me in the situation to help,” Mimbela said.
Mimbela also reminded Villegas to rely on faith.
“I get a letter and it just says, ‘Faith,'” Villegas said.
The letter was from his now wife Amanda Faith Rodriguez.
“I just think that nobody expects to find love the way we did,” Rodriguez said.
She had seen Villegas’ story on the news and wanted to offer her support.
Villegas’ trial originally was supposed to start in July, but the judge postponed it at Villegas’ request because the start of the trial was also his wife’s due date.
She’s had complications during past pregnancies, but two months ago, Emery Hope was born.
“This is another chapter in our lives,” Villegas said. “This is a chapter of hope, let’s name her Hope.”
But here they are again, facing a third murder trial as a family, worried about the worst possible outcome.
“Life sentence, guilty,” Rodriguez said crying. “If I lose him, I lose my family.”
Villegas, though, is a little more optimistic.
“A hung jury (is the worst case scenario),” he said. “No, I’m not even holding onto that thought (of a possible conviction).”
After all, this is a family made up partly of Faith and Hope.
District Attorney Jaime Esparza’s office sent us a statement ahead of the trial that reads:
“We are ready for trial and we are looking forward to finally presenting the evidence we have against Mr. Villegas to a jury in the courtroom.”