State Agrees with Haynes and Boone on Pro Bono Case

April 28, 2006

CONTACT:
Doug Bedell
Haynes and Boone, LLP
214.651.5815 (office)
214.704.3058 (cell)
doug.bedell@haynesboone.com

DALLAS – Ten years after two men were convicted for the murder of a Panhandle convenience store clerk, the State of Texas today agreed that at least one should receive a new trial.

In an unusual joint filing at the end of a lengthy habeas corpus evidentiary hearing, the Lubbock District Attorney’s Office, Texas Attorney General’s Office and the defendant's pro bono appeals team concurred that defendant Alberto Sifuentes did not receive a fair trial. The case of the second defendant, Jesus Ramirez, is under control of Lamb County District Attorney Mark Yarbrough, who opposes a new trial.

The appeals team from Haynes and Boone, LLP said it will ask the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant both men retrials.

“There can be no question that if Alberto Sifuentes is granted a new trial, then Jesus Ramirez must also be given the same relief," said the appellate team -- Barry McNeil, Ron Breaux, Sarah Teachout and Ashley Brown Duffie -- in a statement. "The agreed findings all deal with evidence that should have been presented at both original trials.”

In separate proceedings, Ramirez and Sifuentes were given life sentences for the Aug. 6, 1996 shooting death of clerk Evangelina "Angie" Cruz during a robbery at the Jolly Roger store in Littlefield northwest of Lubbock. The two Mexican immigrants were stopped by authorities that night while returning home to Muleshoe from a Lubbock bar. No evidence was discovered linking the men to the crime and they did not match the description Ms. Cruz gave of her assailants as she lay dying. They were allowed to leave.

Sifuentes and Ramirez only became the prime suspects the following day when an acquaintance inquired about a Crime Stoppers reward. After that, a bungled photo lineup and testimony from a mistaken eyewitness resulted in the convictions, the appellate team has contended.

The agreed "findings of fact" filed by the state, the Lubbock-based special prosecutor in the Sifuentes case, and Haynes and Boone attorneys found that:

  • The original Sifuentes defense team failed to locate a known alibi witness, Pauline Robles, who would have testified the defendants were at a Lubbock night club at the time of the murder.
  • Defense attorneys ignored evidence implicating two other men -- Armando and Jerry Gonzales – who matched the description of the murderers given by the victim.
  • Mr. Sifuentes was denied his constitutional right to effective counsel when his defense team failed to conduct any investigation of critical evidence that was essential for fair consideration by the trial jury.

“In joining the defense to agree that Mr. Sifuentes deserves a new trial, representatives of the special prosecutor and Texas Attorney General’s Office should be commended for helping to right a terrible wrong that has stolen ten years from the lives of two innocent men,” the Haynes and Boone appellate team said.

In its findings submitted separate from the agreed facts, the State of Texas and Lubbock County District Attorney recommend the court find that:

  • Lamb County District Attorney Mark Yarbrough learned that Sal Abreo of the Texas Rangers, lead investigator on the case, had lied to him to get the cases filed.
  • Yarbrough prepared a document describing the Abreo lie and shared it with another prosecutor trying the case, but never disclosed its existence to defense attorneys.
  • The document was never disclosed until ten years later when discovered by the  Texas Attorney General's Office after entering the case and reviewing the Lamb County District Attorney's case file.
  • The prosecution never elicited any testimony from any witness about the lie, nor did they ever reveal to the juries their conclusion that the lead investigator had lied to them to get them to file the case.

The habeas corpus evidentiary hearing began Aug. 29. Final arguments are scheduled for May 4 in Lubbock. At the hearing’s conclusion, visiting Judge Marvin Marshall will forward his conclusions to the trial judge, Judge Felix Klein of the 154th District Court in Littlefield. Judge Klein then sends them to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which could order new trials for both defendants.

Additional statements from the Haynes and Boone, LLP pro bono defense team

Barry McNeil, Ron Breaux, Sarah Teachout and Ashley Brown Duffie

“Even before this habeas corpus evidentiary hearing began, the Haynes and Boone team was confident that the overwhelming evidence would result in new trials for both defendants.”

“Throughout the hearing, the defense team presented multiple grounds in support of its motion. Beyond the agreed findings submitted today, it is clear that the Lamb County district attorney’s office sponsored false eyewitness testimony that resulted in the wrongful conviction of both defendants.”

“There can be no question that if Alberto Sifuentes is granted a new trial, then Jesus Ramirez must also be given the same relief. The agreed findings all deal with evidence that should have been presented at both original trials.”

“The Lamb County district attorney is filing his own findings of fact in connection with the Jesus Ramirez prosecution, which he still controls. The district attorney recused himself from the Sifuentes case when a botched suspect lineup forced a mistrial in that defendant’s initial murder trial.  We are confident Mr. Ramirez will also receive a new trial, despite the district attorney’s continued stance in opposition.”

“In joining the defense to agree that Mr. Sifuentes deserves a new trial, representatives of the special prosecutor and Texas Attorney General’s Office should be commended for helping to right a terrible wrong that has stolen ten years from the lives of two innocent men.”

The latest news about this proceeding can be found at http://innocentintexas.com. Interviews with members of the defense team can be scheduled by contacting Doug Bedell at doug.bedell@haynesboone.com or 214.651.5815.

Haynes and Boone, LLP is an international corporate law firm with offices in Texas, Washington, D.C., Mexico City, Moscow and New York, providing a full spectrum of legal services. With more than 450 attorneys, Haynes and Boone is ranked among the largest law firms in the nation by National Law Journal.  The firm has been recognized by Vault.com as one of the "20 Best Law Firms to Work For," by Corporate Board Member Magazine as one of the “Best Corporate Law Firms in America,” and has received the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s Thomas L. Sager Award for commitment to diversity.

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