State District Judge Elia Cornejo Lopez has recommended Brownsville resident Manuel Velez, who was convicted of murdering a toddler, get a new trial. Lopez issued the order Tuesday.
Velez had been convicted of killing 1-year-old Angel Gabriel Moreno in October 2008. He received the death sentence.
“After a thorough and critical review of the evidence presented, Judge Lopez found that Mr. Velez’s trial counsel was ineffective for, among other reasons, failing to investigate and present medical evidence exculpating Mr. Velez,” said pro bono attorney Tami Goodlette. “She further concluded that this and other failures undermine confidence in the jury’s verdict.”
Velez was convicted and sentenced to death, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the sentence last June because expert witness testimony on future dangerousness of the defendant was deemed inaccurate.
In Lopez’s ruling, she wrote that a new trial should be granted because of ineffective assistance of counsel.
“Mr. Velez has now shown that, at the time of his 2008 trial, compelling medical evidence was available to refute the theory on which he was convicted,” Lopez wrote in her finding. “His trial counsel, Hector Villarreal and O. Rene Flores, inexplicably failed to develop and present to the jury this exculpating evidence. These failures were not the result of sound trial strategy.”
In December, Velez appeared before Lopez for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Lopez would or wouldn’t recommend a new trial for him.
During that hearing, pro bono attorneys said there is no evidence that Velez struck the child and said new medical evidence shows the child sustained the injuries that killed him while Velez was out of town, working in Memphis, Tenn.
The Court of Criminal Appeals will rule on Judge Cornejo's recommendation.