Teenage Conviction Probed on A Fatal Confession: Keith Morrison Investigates

A Fatal Confession: Keith Morrison Investigates asks whether teen killer Daniel Villegas' confession was coerced.

One of El Paso, Texas’ highest profile capital murder cases produced one of the city’s most controversial trials. Daniel Villegas confessed to the deaths of Armando “Mando” Lazo and Bobby England in 1993. He was 16 years old. Hours later, Villegas claimed the confession was coerced by an El Paso Police Department detective. When the case came to court in 1994, an 11-1 hung jury in favor of conviction ended in a mistrial. He was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison. Investigation Discovery’s upcoming two-hour special, A Fatal Confession: Keith Morrison Investigates, will check the facts behind the confession on Sunday, July 7.

Journalist and Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison discovered the case in 2011 and followed the story for years. An appeals court in 2013 overturned the conviction and a new trial was ordered. “The Daniel Villegas story proves that a caring and determined outsider facing the longest of odds can ignite a community, work to restore a future once lost, and inspire love along the way,” Morrison said in a statement.

“He confessed. He said he did it,” reads the A Fatal Confession: Keith Morrison Investigates press statement. “He signed the papers, told the story, and took the blame. But what if it was all a mistake? What if this man was forced to confess to a drive-by shooting he knew nothing about?” 

Daniel Villegas’ confession would follow him for the rest of his life. He went to prison at age 18, and his incarceration sparked “a fight for justice across the city of El Paso,” according to the statement. Villegas’ final trial was granted 23 years after his initial guilty verdict.

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The El Paso community was shocked by the drive-by shooting of two teenagers with no gang affiliation in 1993. Teenaged Villegas had a reputation for mischief at the time of the crime but not for malice. Detective Alfonso Marquez secured a signed confession from Villegas after a few hours of interrogation. “But that same night, Villegas recanted the confession to a social worker,” reads the official synopsis. “But at that point it was too late. Though he had an alibi, the confession remained the centerpiece of Villegas’ trial, and he was sentenced to life in prison.”

Business man John Mimbela hired an experienced attorney and Daniel was granted a new trial in 2014. But it didn’t guarantee there would be enough evidence to prove Villegas’s innocence.  “At ID we have not only the opportunity – but, also, the mission – to share stories that otherwise might not be seen on a national platform,” says Henry Schleiff, Group President of Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, American Heroes Channel and Destination America.

The special includes interviews with key players  of the case, including family members, law enforcement, and John Mimbela and Daniel Villegas.

A Fatal Confession: Keith Morrison Investigates premieres on Sunday, July 7, at 10 p.m. on Investigation Discovery.

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFKRead more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.