CRIME
01/14/2014 04:48 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Daniel Villegas Exonerated: Man Convicted Of Murder 20 Years Ago

Facebook: Free Daniel Villegas

Twenty years after what he and his supporters say was a false confession, Daniel Villegas is free.

"I never thought this day would come. Thank God," Villegas said after being released on Tuesday, according to the El Paso Times.

The paper has more on how Villegas was put in prison nearly two decades ago:

Villegas was sentenced to life in prison in 1995 for the shooting deaths of teens Armando "Mando" Lazo and Robert England. He was 16 at the time of the killings and initially confessed to them, but since then he has claimed his confession was coerced by then-El Paso police Detective Al Marquez, who allegedly threatened Villegas.

Villegas was released on a $50,000 bond while a district attorney decides whether to pursue a new trial.

The Los Angeles Times reports that an appellate court vacated the conviction in December.

Villegas has said his confession was coerced by police who told him he would be raped in prison if he didn't admit to the crime.

His confession constituted much of the state's case against Villegas, "which did not match the facts of the case in numerous ways," the Times reports.

QuestForJustice.net, a site set up in support of Villegas, details some of the problems in the state's case:

This was a double murder that was completely lacking in any evidence. Four other minors confessed to the same crime. No murder weapon was ever found. No vehicle was ever identified. There was no description of a perpetrator from eyewitnesses. No forensic evidence was ever found that linked any possible perpetrator to the crime. Witness statements did not match. Physical evidence was nonexistent. The only proof was this particular confession from a boy who claimed he was coerced.

The site also points to a study that looked at 328 wrongful convictions in the U.S. and found that forty-four percent of juveniles provided a false confession, compared to 13 percent of adults.

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