Judge Upholds Ruling in Villegas Case

El Paso, TX (KTSM) - *Editor's Note: This story has been updated throughout.

The Court of Appeals, Eighth District issued a ruling Wednesday that taped jailhouse conversations between Daniel Villegas and John Mimbela are inadmissible evidence in his re-trial.

Villegas was accused of committing a drive-by shooting in Northeast El Paso that killed Robert England and Roberto Lazo in 1993.   His first trial in 1994 ended in mistrial and the second trial ended in a conviction which Villegas was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2009, Villegas filed an appeal on the grounds that investigators failed to pursue other leads in the case and had received ineffective counsel during his first trial. Eventually, Villegas' attorney was able to suppress the single most damning evidence against him in the initial trial, a confession which Villegas always maintained was coerced by EPPD Detective Al Marquez.

He was released by Judge Sam Medrano on appeal in January 2014 and has been awaiting retrial ever since.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza filed motions to include jailhouse phone conversations between Villegas and John Mimbela, who was spearheading the effort to get Villegas' conviction overturned. Esparza claimed that Mimbela and Villegas conspired to intimidate and pay off witnesses to change testimony in the case.

Presiding Judge Sam Medrano ruled that the tapes were inadmissible in court and DA Esparza appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals. Wednesday, the appeals court upheld Medrano's original ruling. 

John Mimbela spoke with NewsChannel 9 on Thursday afternoon and called Wednesday's ruling a "big victory."

District Attorney Jaime Esparza released a statement Thursday saying “It’s clear that the court of appeals did not make a decision on the guilt or innocence of Daniel Villegas, and any judgment or ruling on the phone calls must await a complete and fair hearing at trial.”

Esparza may still appeal to ruling to a higher court for a reversal on the decision to exclude the jailhouse conversations in any new trial.

Villegas has been working for Mimbela Construction since his release, he has since had a child who just turned one year old in September.

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