Men convicted of murder will get new trials

January 18, 2008 5:30:54 PM PST
Two Mexicans serving life sentences for the murder of a Panhandle convenience store clerk have been granted new trials after an appeals court ruled they received ineffective counsel the first time. Jesus Ramirez, 59 and Alberto Sifuentes, 34, were convicted in separate trials for the 1996 shooting death of Evangelina Cruz, a mother of four who was shot nine times at close range in Littlefield, about 35 miles northwest of Lubbock. Before she died, Cruz dialed 911 and gave a description of her attackers.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that had defense lawyers done a better job interviewing alibi witnesses and other suspects and examining evidence, the men might not have been convicted.

The court agreed with a lower court's finding that their juries should have heard from witnesses who allegedly saw the men at a Lubbock nightclub at the time of the murder, should have seen evidence that implicated others who matched the description of the attackers and other evidence that could have cast doubt on their guilt.

"Finally, justice has arrived for Jesus and Alberto," Dallas-based attorney Barry McNeil, who represented the men, said in a news release.

The Mexican consulate enlisted McNeil's firm to help the men. McNeil said he'll try to get the charges dismissed without further trials.

"These two men have suffered far too long as victims of our legal system," he said. "They are innocent. There is not a shred of evidence against them, and they deserve to be freed immediately."

Court documents show there was no DNA, no blood, no gun or any other evidence that tied the two men to the crime. The men's convictions were initially upheld on appeal.

Lamb County District Attorney Mark Yarbrough said in a statement Friday the men would be retried.

"The court did not find that the defendants were innocent, nor did the court find that there was any prosecutorial misconduct," Yarbrough said. "We are obviously disappointed that Angie's family has to continue to endure these cases."

Sifuentes and Ramirez had been at the dance club before police investigating the robbery and murder stopped them on their drive home.

Nothing in the car tied the men to the crime, so the officers let the pair go.

Six days later, they were charged with capital murder.

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