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Texas Inmate’s Legal Battles Decades after Conviction Reversal
In 1977, Jerry Hartfield was 21, he was convicted of murdering 55 year-old Eunice Lowe, a bus station ticketing agent who was beaten to death with a pickaxe and robbed. Her car and nearly $3,000 were stolen.
His murder conviction was overturned in 1980 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because it found a potential juror was dismissed for expressing reservations about the death penalty. The state tried twice but failed to get the court to re-examine that ruling, so on March 15, 1983, then-Gov. Mark White commuted Hartfield’s sentence to life in prison. With Hartfield off of death row and back into the general population, his care became inactive.
“Nothing got filed. They had me thinking my case was on appeal for 27 years,” said Hartfield, who was described in court documents as an illiterate fifth-grade dropout with an IQ of 51. He says he has since learned to read and write and has become a devout Christian.
In Houston, Texas, a federal judge ruled that Hartfield’s conviction and sentence ceased to exist when the appeals court overturned them–meaning there was no sentencing for White to commute. The State has challenged a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals decisions favorable to Hartfield, arguing he missed a one-year window in which to appeal aspects of his case.
In New Orleans, a 5th Circuit panel agreed with the district court in an October ruling, last month it made a rare, formal request to the Texas appeals court asking it to confirm its decades-old decision to overturn Hartfield’s conviction.
Kenneth R. Hawk II, Hartsfield current attorney described the case as a “one in a million” situation in which an inmate has been stuck in the prison system for more than three decades because no one seems to know what to do with him. “When you see it, it’s kind of breathtaking,” he said. “It was a tough story for him so far and it’s not over yet… The bottom line is the commutation came after a mandate was issued. It wasn’t valid and it’s time for him to get a new trial.”
Hartfield said his uncle read him the article about his conviction being overturned, he didn’t really understand the extent of it. Hartfield’s trial lawyers, stopped representing him after the death sentence was commuted, said Robert Scardino, who was the lead trial attorney.
“When the governor commuted the sentence, that’s when our obligations to Hartfield ended,” Scardino said. He tried using an insanity defense for Hartfield and that psychiatrists called by the defense described Hartfield “as crazy a human being as there was.”
Hartfield insists that he’s not angry that he’s spent nearly all of his entire life locked up, and he says he holds no grudges.
“Being a God-fearing person, He doesn’t allow me to do bitter,” Hartfield said. “He allows me to be forgiving. The things that cause damage to other people, including myself, that’s something I have to forgive. “In order to be forgiven, you have to forgive.”
Image Credit: www.nydailynews.comTexas Inmate's Legal Battles Decades after Conviction Reversal by Jaan