Just after 2 a.m. on August 6, 1996, Evangelina “Angie” Cruz, a 32-year-old mother of four working as a clerk at a convenience store in Littlefield, Texas was shot nine times during a holdup.
Before she died, she called 911 and said the robbers were two Hispanic men 18 to 20 years old, one with short hair and one with long hair. She said they drove a gold-colored sedan.
Less than an hour later, police stopped a beige Lincoln sedan on U.S. 84, 10 miles northwest of Littlefield. The occupants of the car, Jesus Ramirez, 48, Alberto Sifuentes
, 22, both Mexican nationals, and Mary Davila Wood, said they had driven from the western panhandle to Lubbock to go to the Paradise Club, leaving just after 2 a.m. when the club closed.
They were released and drove off.
But later that day, two acquaintances called a crime hotline to ask about a reward and said the two men could fit the description of the murderers. The two were arrested on August 6, 1996 and both were indicted for capital murder on October 31, 1996.
At separate jury trials in 1998, Wood testified that they stopped at a convenience store immediately after leaving the club. A witness said she saw the two men at the convenience store where Cruz was murdered just before the shooting. Her identification was suspect, however, because she identified Sifuentes after his photo dropped from a police officer’s clipboard as she was being interviewed.
A jailhouse informant testified that he heard Ramirez speaking in a nearby cell, saying that Sifuentes “pulled the trigger.”
The prosecution said a roll of nickels found in Ramirez’s car was similar to rolls of money taken from the store.
Ramirez was convicted on May 7, 1998 and sentenced to life in prison. On September 10, 1998, Sifuentes was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Their appeals were denied.
In 2001, the Dallas law firm of Haynes and Boone took over the case at the request of the Mexican Consulate.
They turned up evidence that the woman who said she saw the defendants at the store just before the shooting had actually left the area 90 minutes earlier.
Wood was drunk—she had consumed a six pack of beer and 11 shots or mixed drinks that night.
Three new witnesses were located who placed the the two defendants and Wood at the club in Lubbock just before the 2 a.m. closing time—too far away from Littlefield to have driven there in time to commit the robbery and murder.
Other witnesses said two brothers were the real killers and a pendant with one of their names was found at the crime scene.
At hearings in October and November of 2005, the defense presented evidence that the lead investigator for the state gave false testimony, coached a key witness and actually misstated the victim’s description of the robbers. They discovered that the investigator had failed to disclose that an analysis of a shoeprint at the crime scene did not match the shoes of the defendants.
On April 26, 2006, the defense attorneys and the Lubbock County District Attorney filed joint findings of fact, stating that Sifuentes did not receive a fair trial because the defense had failed to adequately investigate the case.
In August of 2007, state District Judge Felix Klein ordered new trials for both men.
On January 16, 2008, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the defendants had received inadequate legal defense.
In April 2008, a grand jury declined to re-indict Sifuentes and Ramirez and they were released on April 29, 2008.
In 2009, Sifuentes and Ramirez filed a civil lawsuit against the City, County, prosecutor, and police officers involved in their cases. Each man asked for $12 million—$1 million for each year they spent in prison. In 2011, after a six-week jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for the officials in the suit and denied Sifuentes and Ramirez compensation.
– Maurice Possley