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Daniel Villegas, thought wrongly convicted to life sentence, free after 18 years

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On Jan. 14, Daniel Villegas of El Paso, Texas, was freed on bond after serving 18 years of a life sentence for a double homicide that he, a witness to the killings, and hundreds of supporters swear he did not commit. Now 37-years-old, Mr. Villegas has spent nearly half his life in prison.

In 1995, Villegas was convicted of killing two teenagers in an El Paso drive-by shooting, according to NBC News. For the most part, his conviction was based on a confession now deemed to be coerced.

Villegas, 16-years-old at the time of his confession and “a high school dropout who read and wrote at a third-grade level,” said he only confessed after police said that if he didn’t, “he would be raped in county jail and that he would get the death penalty.” Even though he quickly recanted that confession, it was still used in the jury trial against him.

Upon later investigation by his supporters, it became apparent that his confession was fraught with discrepancies, including the fact that Villegas said the car he was riding in that night was white, while the vehicle involved in the drive-by shootings was actually red.

Jesse Hernandez, a witness to the double killing, told FoxNews.com in 2012 he did not believe Villegas was the shooter.

The Innocence Project, Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, and Proclaim Justice are among the organizations that have rallied behind Daniel Villegas’ struggle for freedom over the years.

And perhaps just as significantly, John Mimbela, “an El Paso businessman-turned-activist” spent in excess of $200,000 of his own money helping to free the wrongly convicted Villegas. Mimbela has been involved in Villegas’ quest for justice for the last seven years, and even began a website in his support.

"I never thought this day would come," Villegas said yesterday.

Villegas was freed yesterday on a $50,000 bond.

The District Attorney's office has until a hearing scheduled for Jan. 21 to decide whether or not to pursue a new trial against Daniel Villegas.

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