DALLAS – A man who spent 15 years in prison for the 2001 killing of a teenager was freed on Wednesday after a judge agreed with prosecutors that he didn't commit the crime.
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said Quintin Lee Alonzo, 38, was freed after the judge agreed with a petition from prosecutors declaring him innocent in the 2001 death of Santos Gauna, who was killed when a fight broke out at a party celebrating his high school graduation and decision to join the Marines.
Although Alonzo was freed because prosecutors and the judge believe he's innocent, due largely to the confession of a condemned man the day before that man's execution, Alonzo would still need the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to formally exonerate him to be eligible for state compensation for being falsely imprisoned. That ruling could take months.
Officials say an "exhaustive investigation" corroborated the 2015 confession that Licho Escamilla gave to investigators from the district attorney's office's conviction integrity unit right before Escamilla was put to death for the killing of an off-duty Dallas police officer.
"He was facing execution the next day," said Cynthia Garza, who heads the unit. "We believe he was doing this to make peace with God and make things right for him."
Escamilla was a suspect in Guana's killing. But a person identified Alonzo as the shooter from a photo lineup, and Johnson said the jury at his 2003 trial relied heavily on that identification to convict him.
Alonzo was sentenced to life in prison.
Escamilla, meanwhile, was convicted in 2002 in the death of officer Christopher Kevin James, who was among four uniformed Dallas officers working off-duty security at a club when a brawl broke out and James was shot multiple times by Escamilla.
Prosecutors say that before Escamilla was convicted in James' killing, he confessed to killing Gauna and that he also confessed later to his appellate attorneys. Johnson acknowledged that rumors circulated after the teen's death that Escamilla was responsible, but she said Alonzo's attorney argued this point at Alonzo's trial and jurors didn't buy it.