Judge recommends convicted murderer Daniel Villegas get a new trial

POSTED: 02:25 PM MDT Aug 30, 2012    UPDATED: 08:20 PM MST Feb 12, 2014 
EL PASO, Texas -

Judge Sam Medrano is recommending to the court of criminal appeals that convicted murderer Daniel Villegas receive a new trial.

Medrano announced the decision just after 11:30 a.m. Thursday and the spectators in the courtroom, including friends and family of Villegas, erupted into cheers and began crying.

The hearing took less than five minutes.

Medrano said he is making the recommendation because he believes Villegas received ineffective counsel and because he also thinks he is innocent.

Villegas has spent the last 17 years in prison, convicted in the shooting deaths of two teens in Northeast El Paso back in 1993.

For almost as many years, Villegas and his growing network of supporters have argued that Villegas, who was 16 when he was arrested, was coerced into confessing.

Medrano heard his case in June, as well as the state's argument that Villegas has had due process and two juries have found him guilty.

Villegas' supporters held a rally outside the courtroom.

El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza has never had a doubt that a killer is behind bars.

"We don't see the evidence the way the defense does," Esparza said. "The way they characterize the evidence we believe is incorrect."

Villegas was convicted of murdering Armando Lazo and Robert England nearly 18 years ago. He maintains he was coerced into confessing and there is no physical evidence against him.

But Esparza said the witness accounts and circumstantial evidence against Villegas were properly vetted.