Published January 15, 2014
A West Texas man convicted of killing two people as a teenager in 1993 was released on bond Tuesday after spending nearly 20 years in prison for a crime he says he didn't commit.
"I never thought this day would come and now it's here. It feels like a dream, like I'm going to wake up," 37-year-old Daniel Villegas told a crowd of reporters and sympathizers after his release from the El Paso County Jail.
Villegas was flanked by his mother, Yolanda Villegas, and local businessman John Mimbela, who has supported his case. Villegas was released after the state ordered he should have a new trial.
"This is too much for me. I get to hold him again. I've waited too long," Yolanda Villegas said while tears rolled down her cheeks.
Daniel Villegas' first trial for the deaths of teenagers Armando Lazo and Robert England ended in a hung jury. He was found guilty in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison.
But at hearings in 2011, Villegas' attorney, John Gates, said he hadn't had enough time to prepare for the second trial. The defense for the first trial had called 18 witnesses; Gates presented just one.
The Texas Court of Appeals in December granted Villegas a new trial due to ineffective counsel.
Villegas has claimed he confessed to the crime after an El Paso Police Department detective told him he would be raped in prison and face the death penalty.
"Why did it take so long to get a new trial? Money, I didn't have the money," his mother said. She thanked Mimbela for footing the legal bills and "for putting up with me, I can be annoying."
The Villegas lost their house because of the debt they took during the first trial, she added. "I earn minimum wage. I didn't have the $20,000 to begin (the process of getting a new trial), and even if I did, that was just to start," Villegas' mother said.
Yolanda Villegas told FoxNews.com earlier this week that the family deferred celebrating Christmas until her son can take part.
"No one in the family has opened presents yet," she said. "We have them ready for him to open. We are waiting until he comes home so we can celebrate Christmas, New Year, and his birthday all at once.”
State District Judge Sam Medrano Jr. set a hearing for next week so the attorneys can tell them what they plan to do next.
Daniel Villegas' attorney, Joe Spencer said he believes the prosecution "has no evidence to go on with this case."
The judge set bond at half of what Spencer had originally suggested. Prosecutors requested bond be set in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Villegas has gained hundreds of supporters over the years, including a private investigator hired by friends of his family, a team from Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and a pair of men exonerated after serving time for murder.
In his upcoming trial, Villegas' defense attorney would likely call Jesse Hernandez, who survived the shooting, to the stand. Hernandez insists Villegas is not the killer.
The district attorney's office declined to comment after the hearing.
Villegas told KFOX-TV following his release that he is trying not to focus on the new trial, but what life will be like out of prison.
"Now I can just wake up when I wake up and I don't got to wake up at three in the morning for breakfast," he said.
Villegas left jail in a 1960s red convertible provided by Mimbela.
"We're going to go to church real quick, to pray," Villegas said.
Then, "it's steak, steak and lobster for my baby," his mom said.
Fox News' Perry Chiaramonte and The Associated Press contributed to this report.