Exoneree’s Civil Suit on Hold Pending Retrial

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — A federal judge has suspended a civil rights lawsuit from a Texas man who spent 20 years in prison before being exonerated for the 1993 murders of two teenagers.
     Daniel Villegas, 39, who awaits retrial, claimed in a December lawsuit that El Paso police suppressed evidence of his innocence, coerced a false confession and “completely corrupted the investigative process.”
     He sued the city, former Chief of Police John Scagno and several officers who worked on the case, on Dec. 17, 2015 in El Paso Federal Court.
     Villegas claimed the officers used threats of inmate rape, death by electric chair and actual physical assaults to coerce a false statement from him and other teenagers who corroborated their bogus account of the crime.
     Last Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Leon Schydlower recommended that Villegas’ civil case be stayed until his criminal case is concluded.
     “As Villegas’ civil claims would implicate the validity of any conviction that Villegas might receive, this lawsuit should be stayed pending the resolution of the criminal case,” Schydlower wrote in the Sept. 9 report and recommendation.
     Villegas was released from a Texas prison on bond in 2014 after a judge threw out a confession and the state’s highest criminal court overturned his capital murder conviction and ordered a new trial.
     State prosecutors have said they would pursue a third trial.
     Villegas was 16 years old in 1993 when Armando Lazo,17, and Robert England,18, were murdered walking home from a party around midnight on Good Friday. The drive-by killings shook the border town already besieged by gang violence.
     The jury hung at his first trial, but a second jury convicted Villegas of the killing in 1995 and sentenced him to life in prison.
     Villegas says in his lengthy lawsuit that he was in an apartment watching a movie at the time of the murders. He says officers used “violence, threats of violence, and false promises of leniency to coerce” false statements from him and three other teenagers.
     He says police botched the case against him from the start, lacked probable cause to arrest him and violated state law on treatment of juvenile arrestees.
     El Paso Police Department has declined to comment on the case.
     Judge Schydlower rejected Villegas’ request to move ahead with his claims of coerced confession because the confession has been suppressed and cannot be used during his criminal trial.
     “Once the state criminal proceeding is concluded, plaintiff may file a motion to reopen with 21 days,” Schydlower wrote.

%d bloggers like this: