Texas Case Illustrates Issues of Coerced Confessions, Faulty Defense Work


Daniel Villegas, 16, was arrested at his family's home in El Paso, Tx., in 1993 and accused of the drive-by double-murder of two teenagers, says The Nation. He confessed and was sent to prison for life. Last year, a judge granted him a new trial, saying the confession was coerced. Prosecutors appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Villegas’ case remains a potent example of the insidious problem of false confessions, the incomplete or sloppy police work that often accompanies them, and the damage done by defense attorneys who fail to investigate or to defend their clients—in Villegas’ case, a story that has almost certainly landed the wrong person in prison while a killer remains unpunished for his deeds. Texas Sen. Rodney Ellis, chair of the Innocence Project board, says false confessions come down to “fear and power.” For more than two decades Ellis has fought to reform Texas's criminal justice system, including pushing to implement measures to ensure that confessions are accurate and voluntary. Ultimately, he says the cure for Texas is to ensure access to high-quality defense counsel—especially for indigent defendants—and to create strict guidelines for interrogations. In the meantime, requiring police to record interrogations, in their entirety, would be a “strong step,” toward preventing false confessions, Ellis says.

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