District Attorney Jaime Esparza, who prosecuted Villegas, maintains jurors were right to convict Villegas
?The confession in this case, was a juvenile confession, which requires law enforcement to take extra steps to ensure that the confession is voluntary,? Esparza said.
Villegas said the confession was far from voluntary.
?They said, ?look man, this guy is going to ask you if you want to talk to us, you're going to tell him yeah, if you don't we're going to kick your ass,?? Villegas said of how the confession came about.
For Mimbela, it comes down to a decision Villegas shouldn?t have been allowed to make by himself.
?At 16, you're not allowed to sign a contract, but you're allowed to pretty much sign your life away, cause that's what Daniel did,? Mimbela said.
Villegas' confession weighed heavily during the trial. The defense presented 18 witnesses - including a woman who testified the teen was actually babysitting her daughter the night of the murder.
Defense attorneys said that the main detective had a history of lying under oath and coercing witnesses.
Defense attorneys also said hat the murder weapon was a small caliber gun, not a shotgun as Villegas confessed, and that he was easily manipulated, gullible, and mentally slow, according to a psychiatrist.
Even the supposed driver and passenger in the car the night of the shooting - mentioned in the confession - were later confirmed to be in jail and at home.
?It was 11 to one, so clearly 11 people were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt,? Esparza said. ?It's not enough to get a conviction, but it's certainly an indicator.?
So Villegas was put on trial a second time.
With his family out of money, he was represented by a court-appointed lawyer who didn't present any of the 18 original witnesses.
The verdict this time was guilty.
?I've always thought the jury had done the right thing,? Esparza said.
A private detective and former homicide detective, hired by Mimbela, has studied the case. Freddii Bonilla, the private detective, said he will go to his death believing Villegas is innocent.
Innocent or not, Villegas has grown up behind bars.
?When they tried to rape me a few times in here,? Villegas said, laughing nervously before crying a little. ?That would probably be the worst experience I?ve had. Someone trying to take my manhood from me, that's one of the worst ones.?
And changed another life.
Villega's daughter was born six months before he went to prison at the age of 18.
?To have her think her dad's a low-life, he's a low-life, a killer, that's what hurts the most,? he said. ?That right there kills me. Not being able to hold her, not being able to tell her 'look mija, it's going to be alright' when she gets picked on or when she falls, that hurts the most.?
It hurt so much that he was on the verge of committing suicide until he got word of Mimbela?s help.
?He was pretty much ready to call it quits,? Mimbela said. ?He literally got down on his knees, and he prayed, he said 'God showed me a sign that I'm not going to spend the rest of my life (in jail).? The next day, he got my letter. That's why I?m fighting so hard and I promised him that I wasn't going to stop until he got out.?
Getting out. It?s a hope that hinges on a new hearing to review Villegas? previous representation.
His future will be determined by the same system that some insist put a murderer behind bars and others believe dealt an innocent man false justice.