- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

DALLAS — An unusual coalition of Texas officials and a Dallas law firm agreed last week that a Mexican citizen — accused and convicted of a murder in a small West Texas town 10 years ago — did not get a fair trial.

They will jointly petition a district court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn the murder verdict and grant a new trial to Alberto Sifuentes, who is serving a life sentence.

A second Mexican citizen, Jesus Ramirez, was convicted in the same murder by a different jury, but his life term was not immediately affected by the latest developments.

Several unusual aspects of the case, first explored in detail in an article in The Washington Times last year, caused Dallas-based law firm Haynes & Boone to reinvestigate the case pro bono and compile a dossier of facts that would help Sifuentes’ case, which led to a lengthy hearing last summer and fall.

The Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Attorney General’s Office concurred with the Haynes & Boone legal team that:

• Mr. Sifuentes’ original defense team made little attempt to locate a known alibi witness, who would have testified that Mr. Sifuentes and Mr. Ramirez were at a Lubbock nightclub at the time of the murder, more than 25 miles from the scene.

• The same lawyers ignored two other suspects whose descriptions clearly matched the murderers’ description as given by the victim before she died, while Mr. Sifuentes and Mr. Ramirez did not.

• The original defense team failed to conduct any investigation of critical evidence that likely would have exonerated Mr. Sifuentes, thus denying him his rights.

Haynes & Boone lawyers praised the attorney general’s staff and the special prosecutor from the Lubbock District Attorney’s Office for their role in “helping to right a terrible wrong that has stolen 10 years from the lives of two innocent men.”

Not mentioned, but apparent to those involved at every level, was the potential political backlash that might still remain after last week’s “agreement.”

The famed Texas Rangers’ professionalism was severely questioned as to how false “evidence” played a major role in both convictions. And the judgment and truthfulness of the Lamb County prosecutor and several others who had participated in the conviction of the pair seemed to border on malfeasance

It is rare, said Houston lawyer Ben Flores, no matter what the outcome of such proceedings, that state agencies pinpoint illegal or improper action.

“That took some doing,” Mr. Flores added, “and that’s why it has taken so long.” The hearings began last summer and ended in November.

During the reinvestigation process, it was found that Lamb County District Attorney Mark Yarbrough, who won the original two convictions, had written a memo saying he had been “lied to” about evidentiary matters by Sal Abreo, the lead Texas Ranger investigating the case.

The district attorney testified last fall in a Lubbock hearing that Mr. Abreo told him an eyewitness placed the two suspects in the Littlefield, Texas, convenience store where Evangelina Cruz was shot to death in a robbery early on the morning of Aug. 6, 1996.

Later, Mr. Yarbrough was told the witness, Mary Davila Wood, had not actually been in the store, but had been intoxicated, unconscious in the car and could not identify where the two had stopped to buy gas that night. She later testified she had been coerced by police.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the state’s case was the testimony of Brenda Ayala, who told jurors she was at the site of the murder, a Jolly Roger store, shortly after 2 a.m. A few months after the first trial, defense lawyers discovered a videotape that indicated Mrs. Ayala had been there almost an hour and a half earlier than she claimed.

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