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When Barry McNeil first read a memo about the trials of two Mexican nationals serving life sentences for the brutal murder of a convenience store clerk in a small town about 30 miles west of Lubbock, he recalls thinking, “This doesn’t sound right.” McNeil, a partner in the Dallas office of Haynes and Boone, says Jesus Ramirez and Alberto Sifuentes claimed there was a witness who could testify they were at the Paradise Club in Lubbock when two men robbed and murdered Evangelina Cruz at the Jolly Roger store in Littlefield during the early morning hours of Aug. 6, 1996. But no one found the alibi witness before either of the men’s trials in 1998. Also troubling, McNeil says, was the fact that the dying victim’s description of her two assailants did not match Ramirez and Sifuentes. McNeil says Cruz, who was shot nine times, described the men as Hispanics between 18 and 20 years of age, who were in a gold car. At the time of the murder, Ramirez was 48 and Sifuentes was 23, he says. Lamb County District Attorney Mark Yarbrough, whose office prosecuted Ramirez, says when a customer asked Cruz who had shot her, she responded, “man, boy.” The state’s theory is Cruz was describing Ramirez and Sifuentes, Yarbrough says. Yarbrough also disputes the claim by Ramirez and Sifuentes that they were at the club in Lubbock when Cruz was murdered. The state alleged at trial, Yarbrough says, that Ramirez and Sifuentes left the club in Lubbock before the 2 a.m. closing time, stopped at the Jolly Roger on their drive back to their home in Muleshoe and shot Cruz to death. But on Jan. 16, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the capital murder convictions of Ramirez and Sifuentes and ordered the men remanded to Lamb County, where they could face new trials. In unpublished opinions in Ex Parte Ramirez and Ex Parte Sifuentes, the CCA wrote that the trial court determined that “deficient performance” prejudiced the two applicants and that the court agreed with 154th District Judge Felix Klein that both men are entitled to new trials. Klein, who presided over both men’s trials, determined, among other things, that the men were denied effective assistance of counsel, because their attorneys did not search for Pauline Robles, the woman whom Ramirez and Sifuentes claimed saw them at the Paradise Club at the time of Cruz’s murder, according to findings of fact and conclusions of law Klein issued in both cases in July 2007. “It’s kind of a wonderful affirmation of what we knew all along � that they didn’t receive a fair trial,” Sarah Teachout says of the CCA’s opinions in Ramirez and Sifuentes. Teachout was an associate with Haynes and Boone in Dallas when McNeil agreed in 2001 that the firm would represent both men in their state applications for writs of habeas corpus. Now a partner in the firm, Teachout says she wrote both men’s writ applications. “We’re hopeful that this will lead to their release,” Teachout says of the CCA’s decisions. “The sense we had right from the beginning was there had been an injustice,” says Ashley Duffie, a former Haynes and Boone associate who also worked on the cases. Duffie left Haynes and Boone in July 2007 and is now an in-house environmental attorney at Celanese International Corp. in Dallas. Representing Ramirez and Sifuentes in their state habeas applications pro bono, attorneys on Haynes and Boone’s white-collar defense team in Dallas spent 7,493 hours working on the men’s cases, which, when calculated at the attorneys’ billings rates, amounts to $2.35 million, according to information provided by firm spokesman Doug Bedell. The firm also spent more than $400,000 on private investigative services, exhibit preparation and other expenses for the cases, Bedell estimates. In contrast, Lamb County spent $97,838 on court-appointed defense counsel, expert witnesses and investigators for both cases, according to County Treasurer Janice Wells; $50,000 of that amount the trial court paid to defense expert witnesses. However, the cases may not be over. Yarbrough says the CCA did not find that the defendants were innocent and his office is evaluating whether to retry Ramirez. “I am going to wait until the mandate issues to decide,” Yarbrough says. Abel Acosta, the CCA’s chief deputy clerk, says the court will issue mandates in both cases on Feb. 11. Wade Jackson, a Lubbock County assistant criminal district attorney appointed by Klein as special prosecutor for Sifuentes in the appeals process, also is undecided about whether to retry him. “I am evaluating how to proceed from here,” Jackson says. The Texas Office of the Attorney General joined Jackson in representing the state in Sifuentes. OAG spokesman Tom Kelley declines comment on the case. Pro Bono Efforts Ramirez and Sifuentes attracted law enforcement officials’ attention shortly after Cruz’s murder. According to Klein’s findings of fact and conclusions of law in the Ramirez habeas proceeding, a Littlefield police officer stopped Ramirez and Sifuentes driving a gold car on U.S. Highway 84 west of Littlefield at 2:55 a.m. on the day of the murder. The two men were returning to Muleshoe. Following a search, police found no weapons, no bloody clothes, no blood spatters and no money within the car, but police arrested Ramirez and Sifuentes for Cruz’s murder seven days later, Klein wrote. Klein’s findings provide the following procedural background on the two cases: A Lamb County jury convicted Ramirez of capital murder in May 1998. The state waived the death penalty, and Ramirez received a life sentence. In July 1998, Ramirez filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. Ramirez appealed to Amarillo’s 7th Court of Appeals, which affirmed his conviction and sentence in April 2001. The CCA denied Ramirez’s petition for discretionary review (PDR) in October 2001. In September 1998, a Hockley County jury convicted Sifuentes and sentenced him to life in prison. Yarbrough says Klein moved Sifuentes’ trial to Levelland after granting a defense motion for a change of venue. As in the Ramirez case, the state also waived the death penalty for Sifuentes. Yarbrough says his office could not prosecute Sifuentes, because he was a witness to whether a key witness for the state overheard a defense attorney’s comment after she picked the wrong man in a lineup. Yarbrough says he believes the defense attorney asked whether the witness picked the right person. But the defense had contended that the attorney asked if she picked No. 1 in the lineup, he says. Ronald Breaux, a Haynes and Boone partner who began working on the Ramirez and Sifuentes cases in 2004, says the question over what the witness heard became an issue, because she later called back and identified one of the defendants. Klein appointed Sandra Bowers Self, a former first assistant district attorney in Taylor, as special prosecutor for Sifuentes, Yarbrough says. Self, now a professor at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment before presstime on Jan. 24. Sifuentes appealed to the 7th Court, which affirmed his conviction and sentence in August 2000. The CCA denied Sifuentes’ PDR in February 2001. Ramirez and Sifuentes filed their state habeas writ applications in December 2002. The trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on some of their claims in the fall of 2005 and heard arguments in May 2006. The Haynes and Boone attorneys’ involvement with Ramirez and Sifuentes began in the fall of 2001, when Sandra Babcock, then the director of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program, contacted McNeil about the men’s cases. Babcock, an associate professor at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, says that through the program she formerly headed, the Mexican government assists Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in the United States. The Mexican government decided to take the Ramirez and Sifuentes cases into the program, even though the state did not seek the death penalty for either man, Babcock says. “It seemed to me the evidence against them was very weak, and there was a fairly good possibility both men were innocent,” she says. Luis Lara, who was the vice consul in charge of legal affairs in the Mexican Consulate in Midland, says his government learned about the Ramirez and Sifuentes cases shortly before the men’s trials and provided some funds to pay an investigator. But after completing its investigation, the Mexican government “passed the case to a powerful law firm,” he says, because it was expensive. “We are very happy, because justice is finally done,” says Lara, who currently is a student at the University of New Mexico Law School in Albuquerque. Babcock says the Haynes and Boone team did “heroic work” for Ramirez and Sifuentes. “Both men would still have a life sentence if they had not agreed to take this case,” she says. McNeil says it was “a very easy sell” to convince Haynes and Boone to take the men’s cases, because “our firm is devoted to pro bono.” He says he consulted with the firm’s executive committee, which was supportive of the effort. Teachout says she and McNeil began working on the cases in November 2001. “It was fascinating but also daunting to go through the record,” she says. “It was boxes and boxes and boxes of files.” McNeil says he and Teachout divided up the two cases, with one of them reading the transcript of Ramirez’s trial and the other reading the transcript of Sifuentes’ trial. After reading the transcripts, they determined the jury should not have found either man guilty, he says. The next step was to hire Houston investigator Richard Reyna, a former police officer, to track down Robles, the missing alibi witness, McNeil says. “Finding her was key,” he says. Klein noted in his findings in Ramirez that Reyna located Robles in 2002 after going to the Paradise Club several times and asking patrons if they knew a woman named Pauline who frequented that bar. McNeil says he and Teachout met Robles at the Lubbock International Airport shortly after the investigator found her. “We came away convinced that her story was truthful,” McNeil says. According to Klein’s findings in Ramirez and Sifuentes, Robles testified at the habeas hearing in 2005 that she remembered seeing Ramirez, whom she had previously dated, “with another man, who had long hair, and a woman, who was drunk,” at the Paradise Club a few days before she heard about the murder at the Jolly Roger on television. As noted in the findings, at the time of the murder, Sifuentes had long hair and had been accompanied at the club by a woman “who acknowledged to police, prosecutors and defense counsel that she had been drinking heavily during the night that she went to the Paradise Club.” In Ramirez and Sifuentes, Klein concluded that the men’s defense counsel did not investigate, attempt to locate or interview the potential alibi witness and not doing so “constituted deficient performance.” Klein also found the defense attorneys prejudiced Ramirez and Sifuentes by not investigating two other men who were potential suspects in Cruz’s murder. Breaux says the evidence of the alibi witness and the other two possible suspects could have changed the outcome of the trials of Ramirez and Sifuentes. “It was evidence of their innocence,” he says. “If they want to use that [ineffective assistance of counsel] as the reason to grant these guys a new trial, so be it,” says Lubbock solo Patrick Metze, who along with Mark Fesmire, represented Sifuentes at trial. “We tried like the dickens with what we had,” Metze says. “Given the resources we had, we did a pretty phenomenal job, but the resources we had were very insufficient,” says Fesmire, a former Lubbock criminal-defense attorney who is now director of the State Oil and Gas Commission in New Mexico. Philip Wischkaemper of Lubbock, one of Ramirez’s trial attorneys, says, “Our biggest problem was we took our meager investigative budget, exhausted it and didn’t ask for more.” Wischkaemper, currently the capital assistance director for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, says the Ramirez and Sifuentes trial attorneys did not have the money that Haynes and Boone had to invest in investigating the case. David Martinez, Ramirez’s lead counsel at trial, says he was not ineffective. “The reality is, we just had a bad jury,” says Martinez, owner of the Law Office of David Martinez in Lubbock. “Clearly, the jury could see my guy wasn’t 22,” Martinez adds. Ramirez was 50 at the time of his trial. For the Haynes and Boone attorneys who represented Ramirez and Sifuentes in the habeas proceeding, being involved in the men’s cases was something they won’t soon forget. None of the Haynes and Boone attorneys, who typically represent white-collar defendants, had previously worked on a murder case. Notes Teachout, “This was a case of a lifetime.”

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