Thursday marked the third day of the federal civil trial of two men who were once behind bars for the 1996 murder at the Jolly Roger Convenience Store in Littlefield.
Thursday's testimony revolved around how the 1996 investigation was handled and if the people working on the case were properly trained on how to handle a murder investigation. The Former. Littlefield Police Chief, Charles Lightfoot, testified that Littlefield Police had no handbook for procedures of investigations in 1996. Lightfoot also stated that no written guidance was given to officers at Littlefield Police on how to conduct an eyewitness identification, but that they did evaluate all officers every month. Lightfoot said he would distribute memos to officers, but there was no handbook for procedures.
Former Littlefield Police Detective, John Yohner, also testified and was asked about taking a witness to the scene of the crime to "jog her memory." One of the witnesses who was supposed to testify before the grand jury in 1997 was transported by Yohner to the Jolly Roger. When asked why he took her there, he stated he was told to take her to the Jolly Roger to "jog her memory." When the Plaintiff's attorneys asked him who sent him there, he said he could not remember.
Former Texas Ranger, Salvador Abrea, who is also a defendant in this case took the stand. Plaintiff's attorneys questioned his training and experience prior to the murder investigation. Abreas' testimony will continue tomorrow morning at the Federal building.
Plaintiffs Jesus Ramirez and Alberto Sifuentes are suing for a combined total of $24 million, $1 million for each year each man spent in prison. Both men were convicted for murder, but the convictions were later thrown out. Ramirez and Sifuentes were convicted of killing Evangelina Cruz at the Jolly Roger Convenience Store. Both men claim they were targets of false allegations and poor police work.
On Wednesday, former Littlefield Police Lieutenant, Leo Ponce, who worked on the case back in 1996 took the stand. The plaintiff's attorneys allege Ponce made false statements in his reports.
Ponce claims he was sent to Muleshoe on the day of the murder to acquire several mug shot photos from Muleshoe Police but he didn't know why he was sent there. When he returned with the mug shots he was notified that a witness had a description of the suspects. Ponce claims while he interviewed the witness, a Brenda Ayala, on August 6th, 1996. He had several of the mug shots fall off his clipboard and Ayala identified one of the pictures as one of the men she saw at the Jolly Roger.
However, the plaintiff's attorneys say there is no record of that happening in any of Ponce's reports until he created a report three months later for the Lamb County D.A.'s office for their capital murder case in November of 1996.
They also questioned the whereabouts of the photo Ponce claims Ayala identified as no one has seen the photo since that day. Ponce claims the last time he saw it was when he dropped it in his investigator CID box on August 6th, 1996.
On Tuesday, a Littlefield Police Patrol Sergeant who responded to the scene took the stand.
The plaintiff's attorney tried to show discrepancies between what the responding officer learned on the scene and the initial report.
One of the key arguments for the plaintiffs is Cruz told the first officer on the scene her assailants were two Hispanic men, 18 to 20 years old. At the time of the murder, Ramirez was 47.
Attorneys for Sifuentes and Ramirez alleged law enforcement and prosecutors used unconstitutional methods to secure convictions in the absence of any physical evidence against the men.
According to the complaint filed in 2009, the defendants failed to properly investigate legitimate suspects and instead misconstrued evidence and coerced witnesses to secure the convictions of Sifuentes and Ramirez.
The case will continue Friday morning at the Federal Building in Lubbock, and we'll have updates at 5,6, and 10 on KCBD NewsChannel 11.
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