- Steve TylerDistrict Attorney of Victoria County, Texas
District Attorney Steve Tyler of Victoria County, Texas: Research the case of John Quintanilla
In 2004, John Quintanilla was sentenced to death for the murder of Victor Billings and is scheduled to be executed on July 16th, 2013. However, there are strong indications that John Quintanilla is innocent of this crime.
- District Attorney of Victoria County, Texas
Only recently, you stated towards the Victoria Advocate that you were still researching and checking the case [of John Quintanilla Jr.] even today.
While I appreciate your thoroughness, I would also like to use this as an opportunity to express my serious concerns about the scheduled execution of John Quintanilla as there are strong indications that he has not committed the crime he was sentenced to death for in 2004.
The very first suspect in the murder case of Victor Billings was Rocky Edward Rodriguez – John’s brother-in-law. Before John’s arrest on unrelated charges, John has never been connected to the murder of Victor Billings.
John’s guilty verdict was based on a videotaped confession which John gave the police and in which he took full responsibility for the murder of Victor Billings. However, this confession was false.
John gave this confession after he saw the life of his sister Joanie Marie Rodriguez, wife of Rocky Edward Rodriguez, threatened by police officer Tom Copeland. In an attempt to gather evidence against Rocky Edward Rodriguez, this officer came to the house of John’s mother and told her that he would make sure Joanie Marie Rodriguez – pregnant with her fourth child at this time – would get the death penalty if she did not testify against her husband.
During John Quintanilla’s trial, officer Copeland stated he would not remember what he said to John’s mother. In this regard, I would like to point your attention to the Arizona case of Debra Jean Milke. Her death sentence has been vacated recently when it turned out that the officer who mainly investigated her case lied about the confession she supposedly gave to him. Although police officers as public role models are very unlikely to stretch the truth or even get facts wrong on purpose, the case of Debra Jean Milke shows that it still does happen. Since the execution of John Quintanilla would be an irrevocable punishment, every possible stone of doubt on the way should be turned upside down and investigated on.
With his sister being the mother of three children and pregnant with the fourth, it was then when officer Copeland talked to John’s mother that John decided to take responsibility for a murder he did not commit. He did not want his nephew and nieces to grow up in a broken family like himself and his siblings did.
John Quintanilla learnt everything about the robbery of the Action Amusement Center and the murder of Victor Billings second-hand from his brother-in-law, Rocky Edward Rodriguez. Rocky Edward Rodriguez knew first-hand what had happened at the Action Amusement Center because he committed the crime together with Jeffrey Alan Bibb and Joanie Marie Rodriguez.
Since John has never been at the crime scene himself and had no involvement in the crime whatsoever, the details he gave to the police in his false confession could not have been completely accurate. A ballistic expert during the trial said that the bullets and bullet cases found at the crime scene did not support John’s story of the events at the Action Amusement Center on 24th November 2002.
Other than this false confession, no other physical evidence was presented at trial which would have linked John Quintanilla to the crime:
• Despite John’s home being searched numerous times, neither the money taken during the robbery of the Action Amusement Center nor the clothes – especially the pantyhose masks – the robbers were wearing could ever be found.
• The gun which is considered to be the murder weapon could not be linked to the bullets found at the crime scene beyond any doubt.
• The positions of the bullets and bullet cases at the crime scene did not support the progressions of the robbery as John had described it in his confession.
• During trial not one single eye witness could identify John Quintanilla as the shooter of Victor Billings. The shooter was described as a white man, taller than 5’6” and weighing about 170 or more pounds. This description does not match John Quintanilla’s physical appearance at all, but fits perfectly on Rocky Edward Rodriguez.
During the trial, one eye witness of the size of 5’6” stated that the shooter was taller than her. John is only 5’6” tall while Rocky Edward Rodriguez’s height is 5’11”. Five inches are a significant difference which can hardly be perceived wrongly, even when at gunpoint.
Again, nothing but his false confession brought John Quintanilla on death row. While it might seem absolutely unreasonable for anyone not involved in his case that John wrongfully took the full blame for something as serious as a murder, false confessions are not rare. Since 1980, 302 people have been exonerated in the USA because of post-conviction DNA-evidence. According to the New York based Innocence Project, in 25 % of these cases it was because of false confessions that a guilty verdict could have been reached at all.
Back in 2002/2003, John Quintanilla had his reasons to do what he thought would protect his sister and his brother-in-law. Today, John knows that his false confession which Rocky Edward Rodriguez considered to be the master plan to get away with the murder of Victor Billings was an immature try to cheat on justice. Unfortunately, John Quintanilla’s development for the better and his wish to un-do his false confession have never been considered at any stage of his appeals process.
In 2002/2003 John Quintanilla allowed Rocky Edward Rodriguez and Jeffrey Alan Bibb to tie him to the murder of Victor Billings and he allowed his sister Joanie Marie Quintanilla to remain silent about his (non-existing) involvement in the crime. Today, the purpose of John’s life has changed and he should not die for a crime other people committed.
In order to prevent an innocent man from being executed, I am calling on you to talk to the persons involved in the murder of Victor Billings within your researches on the case.
I am especially urging you to get to know John Quintanilla in person –please do not let paperwork files be the only foundation of your checks and researches.
Please meet John Quintanilla in person and talk to him about his motivation to take responsibility for a murder he did not commit. I am convinced you would see that John is not – and has never been – the cold-blooded person which he was portrayed as during his trial. And you would see that - despite all bad actions on John’s account – John is not a killer.
Please talk to Rocky Edward Rodriguez, Jeffrey Alan Bibb and Joanie Marie Rodriguez and make sure that they understand that their false testimony could literally end the life of an innocent person. Please also talk to John’s mother who has never been heard at trial or before.
Finally, I would like to express my sympathies for the family of Victor Billing about their loss. There is no doubt that the family of Victor Billings deserves justice for the murder of their husband and father – but executing an innocent man is not only not justice, but would be the greatest injustice of all.
I thank you very much for your consideration.
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