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by doug bedell    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 06:16 PM

(Full disclosure: I work for Haynes and Boone in media relations, so many will consider this self-serving. However, as a 30-year journalist who covered some high-profile justice-gone-awry cases for the Dallas Times Herald, DMN and Louisville C-J, I consider this one of the worst railroadings of two innocent men ever foisted on the court system. All the documents and press coverage are available at Read them and weep for two guys who have lost ten years of their life to shoddy Texas Justice.)

The Houston Chronicle's Mark Babineck details how the state is finally owning up to severe problems with the conviction of two Mexican immigrants for a 1996 Panhandle murder.

State backs new trial for inmate in 1996 murder

Attorneys point to incompetence and lies, saying 1 of 2 convicted didn't see a fair process

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

One of two Mexican men convicted in the 1996 murder of a West Texas convenience store clerk deserves a new trial because of a lying Texas Ranger, a prosecutor who ignored the lie and the failure of defense attorneys to properly investigate, state attorneys said Thursday.

In a "findings of fact" jointly filed by the Texas Attorney General's Office, the Lubbock County District Attorney and pro bono appeals attorneys at the Haynes and Boone law firm, all agreed that Alberto Sifuentes did not get a fair trial.

"That the state of Texas and the Lubbock County District Attorney's Office would recommend findings to the court that would result in a new trial is enormous," appellate attorney Barry McNeil said.

Sifuentes and Jesus Ramirez were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison in the robbery-slaying of Littlefield clerk Evangelina Cruz that netted $297.

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by Will Lutz    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 11:48 AM

The Senate Committee substitute to House Bill 2 has one key significant change from its House counterpart -- it dedicates some new money to education. The substitute unveiled by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) dedicates all money from the revised franchise taxes to education until the school maintenance and operation tax rate hits $1.00 per $100 of valuation. Between $1.00 and 75 cents, two-thirds of the revenue is dedicated to tax relief and one-third to education, Williams told reporters. Once the rate hits 75 cents, any additional revenue from the tax changes not needed to maintain that rate goes to education.

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by Will Lutz    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 11:46 AM

Once again, Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) and insurance companies are having a little disagreement. In 2005, Rose and Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) tacked an amendment onto HB 3 that would have required insurance carriers to pay both the franchise tax and the insurance premium tax. This year, after the gallery emptied, Rose proposed an amendment to HB 4 -- the "liar's affidavit" bill that creates a presumptive value for tax purposes on the sale of used cars based on the Kelley Blue Book value. The Rose amendment would state that when a car is totalled, the auto insurer must pay the policyholder the Blue Book value on the car. The amendment was inserted on the House floor with little or no controversy. The Senate, however, is a different story. HB 4's Senate sponsor, Sen. Kyle Janek (R-Housotn) has removed the Rose amendment from the commmittee substitute. Janek told Senators that the Rose amendment may come back on the floor, and that Rose representatives of the insurance industry are negotiating on the issue in good faith.

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by Will Lutz    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 11:43 AM

House Speaker Tom Craddick's spokesperson, Alexis DeLee, says that Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have met weekly to try and reach consensus on school finance. DeLee said that Craddick and Dewhurst have agreed to do a $2000 per year across-the-board pay raise for teachers with an additional average $1000 per teacher in incentives. The incentives will be phased-in. The first $100 million in incentives will take effect in 2007 and will be a state program targeted at high-poverty campuses that close the achievement gap. In 2008, an additional $200 million will be provided, some of which goes through a state program and others through a locally developed incentive programs. The deal also includes accountability and transparency measures as well as $500 per student to improve Texas high schools, assuming funds are available.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told reporters that he and Craddick have had "very, very constructive meetings" and that he and Craddick are "very, very close on every item." Dewhurst told reporters there are two open items -- he would like to increase the size of the teacher pay raise and he said Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) is working on ways to provide relief from recapture.

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by Will Lutz    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 11:41 AM

The Senate Finance Committee today passed out HB 3, the revised franchise tax bill, 9-4. The dissenting votes were: Sens. Zaffirini, Hinojosa, West and Whitmire.  The committee did not entertain amendments on the bill. What this means is that the bill cannot be amended on the Senate floor. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told reporters that SB 6 has been filed, which could be used as a vehicle for senators to consider amendments to HB 3.

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by Tom Pauken    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 10:43 AM

Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's chief deputy, called for the elimination of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, in a new video posted on the internet Friday.  In a report from the Daily Telegraph, on the tape Zawahri called for Muslims in Pakistan to rise up and "topple this bribe-taking treacherous criminal".  President Musharraf has survived numerous assassination attempts initiated by forces linked to the militant Al-Qu'eda forces.   Zawahri also "condemned Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt.

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by Trey Garrison    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 10:34 AM

This is the lead from a story in the daily yesterday.

Mario Ramírez plans to take a $25,000 hit to his business on Monday. He'll close his 12 taquerías and bakeries in solidarity with his workers, who want to participate in a national action day in support of immigrant rights.

Oh please. Over $9 million annual sales from a dozen taquerias and bakeries? I call BS. This is something the daily wouldn't have accepted so uncritically if it didn't advance their own agenda.

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by Special to    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 10:12 AM

The Daily Telegraph reported this weekend that "Iraqi oil gangs" have stolen billions of dollars worth of oil from Iraq.  The article by Jim Muir, reporting from Baghdad, quotes Walid Khadduri, an economics editor of an Arab newspaper, as stating that "smuggling and other rackets in Iraq are costing the country" more than $10 billion dollars a year in "direct losses and missed opportunities:  "There is no accountability, no punishment, and it goes all the way to the top--the smuggling gangs are in cahoots with local authorities and politicians because they need protection.  There was corruption under Saddam but nowhere near this," Khadduri said. 

A ministry report on the problem "says smuggling has created a 'new class of grand mafiosi'," according to the Telegraph story.

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by Tom Pauken    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 09:46 AM

The comments of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke that the Federal Reserve may pause in its interest rate hikes were not good for the dollar.  It  tumbled to a seven month low vs. the Euro in the wake of Bernanke's remarks.  The U.S. currency dropped 1.9 percent  in value this week alone. The Fed is expected to raise rates in May to 5 percent; but it may stop at that point, according to the new Fed Chairman.  But, that interest rate pause runs the risk of substantially devaluing the dollar in relationship to other currencies. The problem facing Bernanke is that our massive current account deficits depends on investors buying our dollars.  As economist Doug Noland points out this week, we have become heavily dependant on foreign central banks (principally Japan and China) buying our dollars:  "As buyers of last resort, foreign central bank reserves have ballooned about $1 trillion over the past 18 months.  Ominously, this incredible support has only stabilized the dollar's freefall."

Isn't it time we addressed our huge deficit problem?

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by Scott Bennett    Sat, Apr 29, 2006, 09:17 AM


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