Monday, December 16, 2013

Long delay by CCA in El Paso false confession case

The HuffPost Crime Blog had an article this week profiling a habeas corpus writ involving an alleged false confession case out of El Paso that the Court of Criminal Appeals has been sitting on for nearly a year and a half. The story opened:
Is Daniel Villegas innocent?

According to a district judge, at least 18 alibi witnesses, the jury foreman, one of his alleged shooting victims, the former mayor of El Paso and a local businessman who has turned into his most vocal advocate, the answer is an unequivocal yes.

Daniel Villegas, 36, is serving a life sentence for the shooting deaths of teens Armando "Mando" Lazo, 18, and Robert England, 17, in Northeast El Paso. He has been incarcerated since 1995.

Villegas, who was 16 at the time of the killings, confessed, but claimed immediately after he was separated from then-El Paso police Detective Al Marquez that the confession was aggressively coerced.
According to the HuffPost article:
In August 2012, Judge Medrano ruled that Villegas' confession was coerced -- something that Villegas communicated to juvenile officers immediately following his removal from the custody of Detective Marquez.

"For our justice system to work it must make two important promises to its citizens: A fundamentally fair trial and an accurate result," Judge Medrano told a courtroom. "If either of these two promises are not kept, our system loses its credibility, our citizens lose their faith and confidence in our court system, and eventually our decisions and laws become meaningless."

This summer, supporters of Daniel Villegas marched on the Capitol a year to the day of Medrano's ruling, hoping to get the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to address Villegas' case. Supporters included former El Paso Mayor John Cook, who said he believed Villegas should be granted a new trial, as well as several former death row inmates who lived to be vindicated.

But the appellate court has not so much as set a hearing.
Ironically, Villegas rejected a plea bargain for a 10 year sentence in the double homicide because, he said, he didn't believe an innocent person could be convicted in America. That was nearly 20 years ago. Cases like these, Grits has repeatedly maintained, argue strongly for a requirement that police record interrogations, at least in the most serious cases. But in this case, even the version of the confession obtained by police doesn't match up with other facts in evidence, according to the judge's findings and published reports. I have no idea why the Court of Criminal Appeals has waited to long to confirm or reject the district judge's ruling, but it sure seems like it's time for them to get on the stick.


Atticus said...

This is a prime example of why there should be a "speedy appeal act" as well as a "speedy trial act", which Texas tried once with results deemed disastrous by the prosecution community who had to(gasp)dismiss some cases they were unable to try.

Under current law, a CCA Judge can "pull" a case that might produce a result he/she does not favor and sit on it for an unlimited amount of time, denying the parties the relief to which they might be entitled.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

"Cases like these, Grits has repeatedly maintained, argue strongly for a requirement that police record interrogations, at least in the most serious cases."

Yes, one advocate to another from another mother -

*I hope that the definition of 'serious' is considered to be fully extended to include any crime that qualifies for the inmate turned defendant (human) to be sentenced to Prison for any length of time.

That's what I'm fighting for. If we wimp out on the front end and Cherry Pick for them (aka: US), and provide 'Outs', the jails & prisons will be full of those that were 'Not' recorded & advised to plea bargain aka: falsely confess. Wait, they already are.

Grits, on that note. Would you consider authoring a one of a kind Petition launched from GFB and blitzed via every known social outlet on the planet (dated this year addressed to the Lege aimed at getting this part of the Cole Act in play? We need one that's penned, promoted & presented by someone they are familiar with containing thousands of signatures from all sides of the spectrum. (Including folks across borders & oversees since some of them seek to come here eventually.) Please think about it. You could sale tickets or seek donations to ride along to deliver the boxes.

Thanks for cleaning up Texas one Act at a time.

rodsmith said...

I think we are at the point that any interaction with the govt should be recorded on non-modificable media. Failure to do so results in an automatic default to the citizen.

This would be especially important in police and other criminal and so-called civil interactions that can result in fines or imprisonment. With the same resulting to the govt agent of failed to do so.

Anonymous said...

Atticus you are right on the money as regards the CCA judges "pulling" unfavorable cases. Its troubling just how openly political the "court" has become. Even in this case they only acted because of the media pressure. Can they be trusted to make sound legal decisions when no one is looking?