Villegas spent 20 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of capital murder in the fatal shooting of two El Pasoans in 1993.
Daniel Villegas spent 20 years of his life in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of capital murder in the fatal shootings of two El Pasoans in 1993. Finally, in October 2018, an El Paso jury of seven women and five men found Villegas not guilty, marking the end of a 25-year saga that included three trials and numerous appeals. The emotional video has resurfaced and is going viral again as the internet recalls the powerful moment Villegas learned he was finally free. Villegas was in tears even before the verdict was announced and was bawling uncontrollably when the judge read the not-guilty verdict. "That was too much for me," Villegas said about the stress of waiting for the verdict, according to El Paso Times.
“You’ll never be the same,” Daniel Villegas opens up on life after 2018 trialhttps://t.co/7Gc5KBmO74— KTSM 9 News (@KTSMtv) December 4, 2021
Addressing Villegas after the verdict was read, Judge Sam Medrano said, "Mr. Villegas, you have been under many conditions in this court. You are no longer under any conditions. You are free to leave. Good luck to you, sir."
"Thank you to all of El Paso," Villegas said after leaving the courtroom. "Even in court when we were waiting, people were coming up to us and saying, 'We are rooting for you.' Even law enforcement in the courtroom, I can't say who they are, were even saying, 'We are rooting for you. We are rooting for you.'"
He added, "I just wanted to thank all of El Paso for having my back. Thank you for being there because that helped me a lot. That helped me have strength." Villegas' first trial in 1994 ended in a mistrial. However, he was convicted by a jury of capital murder the following year and sentenced to life in prison as prosecutors had not sought the death penalty. The 1995 conviction was overturned 18 years later by a court appeal in 2013 and a new trial was ordered. The case has also involved dozens of appeals and decisions, becoming one of the highest-profile capital murder cases in El Paso.
A video of the emotional moment Villegas heard the not-guilty verdict went viral on Reddit a few months ago. Many celebrated Villegas's acquittal while also addressing the struggles that came with it. A user commented, "Nothing will bring back those 25 years I feel for this man."
"That's hard to watch when you consider all that probably went so very wrong to get matters to that point. Tough enough to see his anticipation and reaction, let alone the victim(s) and family of the crimes for which he was mistakenly/wrongly convicted. Such tragedies leave a long, and lasting wake," another commented. "Right. The cheering was oddly discomforting to me. I know it's a happy occasion but I felt so much grief for this man. 25 years of his life. That's easily 1/3 of his life. Just gone," said another.
Speaking at the University of Texas in 2021, Villegas said that despite being acquitted, he still lives with challenges that come from the case, reported KTSM. "Everything you do, even right now that I am exonerated, I can't even go to school for my kids and be there for them because they say 'well, this comes up on your record.' And, I tell them, look, it says I am acquitted. And, they say it doesn't matter 'you've been charged with capital murder, we don't want you on the school premises.'" Moreover, he shared that it is hard to trust others and do routine processes like getting a driver's license due to his traumatic experience. He added that he still receives threats on social media and emails. "In my mind, I was going to die in prison," he said. "After like a year, or so, you start realizing how much they took from you."