Today, October 8, 2014, Manuel Velez – who once faced execution by the State of Texas – was released from prison in Huntsville. He will be reunited with his family in Brownsville, including his two sons, who are now 11 and 15 years old. His freedom is a momentous outcome in a case that has endured numerous legal twists and turns over the last nine years.
Read this press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented Mr. Velez.
The case of Manuel Velez is a hallmark of everything that can go wrong in a death penalty case… incompetent legal counsel, an unreliable and unrecorded police statement, prosecutorial misconduct, shoddy science, and false testimony by an “expert” witness regarding the likelihood of future dangerousness.
But for the intervention of capital defense attorney Maurie Levin and the incredible work of the ACLU and the law firms of Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, LLP, and Lewis, Roca, Rothberger LLP, Manuel Velez would still be under a sentence of death today.
Background on the case
On October 24, 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction of Manuel Velez, who was sentenced to death in Cameron County in 2008 for the death of one-year-old Angel Gabriel Moreno. The baby was the child of Velez’s then- girlfriend, Acela Moreno, who served five years of a ten-year sentence for her role in the baby’s tragic death. The court agreed with a state district judge’s assessment that Mr. Velez’s defense attorneys failed to present critical medical evidence of injuries the baby sustained in the weeks and months before his death – injuries that Velez could not have caused as he was working on a construction site in Tennessee at the time.
In 2012, the court threw out Mr. Velez’s death sentence after determining that the jury heard misleading testimony from an expert witness regarding the circumstances of incarceration if Velez was sentenced to life in prison.
According to the ACLU, “Even after Velez’s conviction was overturned, and in the face of overwhelming evidence of his innocence, the State refused to dismiss the murder charge against him unless he took a plea. Velez pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of injury to a child rather than face a new trial that could be plagued by the same injustices that sent him to death row.”
For more background on this case, read this compelling piece by the always-amazing Pamela Colloff, executive editor at Texas Monthly.
The case of Manuel Velez is yet one more example of the problems with the death penalty in Texas and the egregious mistakes that can occur with a system that has the power to take the life of an individual. As our friend Juan Melendez says, “You can always release an innocent man from prison, but you can never release an innocent man from the grave.”
Read about other wrongful convictions in Texas.
TCADP congratulates the ACLU and all of the attorneys whose hard work resulted in freedom for Manuel Velez. We wish Mr. Velez and his family the best as he begins to rebuild his life.