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"Dateline": Was Texas Latino Teen Wrongly Convicted Of Murders?

by Juan Castillo /

Was a Texas man wrongly convicted in the fatal shootings of two teenagers 20 years ago? At just 16, was he coerced into confessing to crimes he didn’t commit?

NBC's “Dateline” explores the case of Daniel Villegas of El Paso, who claims police forced him to confess to the 1993 shooting deaths. A jury convicted Villegas of capital murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

Now 38, Villegas was released from prison last year after a state judge threw out his confession, ruling that a police detective had violated Villegas’ civil rights by allegedly threatening him. A state appeals court overturned Villegas’ capital murder conviction and ordered a new trial.

Villegas, who is free on bond, told the El Paso Times this week that he was both nervous and curious about what “Dateline” would air, though he hoped the broadcast would “open more eyes” and bring national awareness to his case.

“Dateline” correspondent Keith Morrison told NBC News Latino it’s understandable Villegas has a case of nerves.

“Daniel Villegas has been on a roller coaster of possibilities - good and bad- for years,” Morrison said via email. “Bits of good news have often been followed by sudden reversals. Every word he says is parsed for meanings that might be used for, or against, his cause.”

That Villegas has any case at all, Morrison added, is due to the remarkable efforts of John Mimbela, an El Paso, construction contractor.

“He is a man Daniel had never heard of, and who began his now 10-year-old quest (to clear Villegas) without a single moment of training in the law, and in opposition to a DA who did and does believe Daniel is guilty of murder,” Morrison said.

How Mimbela got involved begins with a love story. “That’s what we call a tease,” Morrison said, adding that Villegas’ story is a dramatic one with, “at the heart of it, disturbing questions about the way this case, at least, was made.”

Titled “The Confession,” the “Dateline” episode airs Friday, Oct. 16 at 9 Eastern, 8 Central.

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