Daniel Villegas, in prison for life for killing two teens, has been freed on $50,000 bond after spending two decades of his life behind bars for a crime he says he did not commit.
Villegas, now 37, was convicted in 1993 of having been involved in a double-homicide stemming from a drive-by shooting in El Paso, TX.
At the time, Villegas confessed to the murders, but immediately afterwards he recanted his statement, claiming his confession was made while being coerced by detectives.
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The then 16-year-old said he only confessed because he was told that if he didn't, he would be raped in county jail and receive the death penalty, NBC News reported
Despite recanting the confession, the statement was kept on file. A jury subsequently convicted him of killing Robert England, 18, and Armando Lazo, 17, and sentenced him to a life sentence.
Over the past two decades, Villegas claim that he was wrongfully accused gained support not only from family and friends but also several organizations that aim to free wrongfully accused individuals from prison.
The support was helped along by several discrepancies that arose from the trial, such as the fact that Villegas said he was driving a white car the night the crime was committed, however the vehicle used in the shooting was a red car, the Los Angeles Times reported
Additionally, two witness to the crime signed affidavits that affirmed that Villegas' confession did not correspond with how the shooting occurred.
In addition to the discrepancies in the case, Villegas was also assisted by contributions from individuals particularly an El Paso businessman-turned-activist, John Mimbela, who spent more than $200,000 trying to win freedom for Villegas, according to Proclaim Justice
Villegas' conviction was vacated by an appellate court in December, having found that he did not have adequate counsel during his trial – which lasted just three days.
On Tuesday, Villegas was released on $50,000 bond.
The District Attorney's office has until Jan. 21 to decide whether it will seek a new trial for Villegas.
If exonerated, Villegas is eligible for compensation, amounting to $80,000 per year spent in prison, plus a monthly annuity and other benefits, the Los Angeles Times noted.
Upon his release, Villegas said "never thought this day would come," the El Paso Times reported
Villegas' first stop after being freed was to a church with his family.
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