The best thing you can often do in these cases is to trust the Public Defender that has been assigned to the case. Try to get to know that person and see if they are committed to their job or just marking time. Many Public Defenders are skilled attorney's that care. In other cases they are over worked and just looking to retire.
You can best serve yourself by just talking to the Lawyer assigned to the case. If it is already in the appellate courts then talk to the appellate lawyer. Communication is the best advise.
There is not a lot of pro bono criminal defense work, because a criminal defendant is already entitled to a free attorney, if s/he can't afford one. If the defendant was already convicted, he gets an automatic appeal, represented by a free attorney at the First District Appellate Projects (FDAP). At FDAP, he will be assigned to a top-notch appellate attorney with lots of experience, who will evaluate his case for legal errors and appeal the conviction on all grounds possible.