The Work

July 14, 2008 1:16 PM

PRO BONO 2008: Haynes and Boone Corrects a 12-Year Mistake

Posted by Ed Shanahan

The following report is one of several published in the July 2008 issue of The American Lawyer that look at some of the most intriguing and unusual pro bono cases handled by The Am Law 200.

In May, Haynes and Boone litigators helped win freedom for two Mexican nationals who had been convicted of murdering a convenience store clerk in Littlefield, Texas, in 1996. At the time of their release, the men--Alberto Sifuentes and Jesus Ramirez--had already served 12 years of their life

No physical evidence linked the men to the shooting of the clerk, Evangelina Cruz. Instead, they had been found guilty largely on the basis of a bungled photo identification and testimony from an unreliable witness.

Dallas-based Haynes and Boone took the case in 2001, after a referral from the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program, a project funded by the government of Mexico to help Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in the United States. (MCLAP took the case even though Sifuentes and Ramirez had not been sentenced to death.)

Haynes and Boone lawyers donated more than 4,000 hours over six-and-a-half years. "It's just an unbelievable slow-like-molasses process," says Barry McNeil, the lead partner on the case. "You really can't take something like this unless you're willing to commit an enormous amount of time and money."

The firm brought in a private investigator who found an alibi witness, a woman who'd once dated Ramirez. She placed both men at a nightclub in Lubbock, about 35 miles away, at the time of the crime.

In January the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed and vacated the men's convictions. Not only had jurors at the trial been unaware of the alibi witness, they were not told of the existence of evidence that
implicated two other suspects. In May a grand jury refused to reindict Sifuentes and Ramirez.

Haynes and Boone continues to represent Sifuentes and Ramirez on a pro bono basis in pursuing compensation from the state for the 12 years they were imprisoned. "If there's any way we can get them substantial sums of money," McNeil says, "we're going to."

--Ross Todd

PRO BONO SCORECARD 2008 Haynes and Boone ranked 137th on this year's Scorecard (down from 133rd last year). The average number of pro bono hours per lawyer was 21.7; 22.7 percent of the firm's lawyers contributed more than 20 hours to pro bono matters last year.

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