Criminal Justice

Inmate Has Been in Prison Awaiting Court-Ordered Retrial Since 1980

  • Print.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Jerry Hartfield’s murder conviction in 1980. He is still in prison waiting for his retrial.

The state court twice refused state requests to reconsider the ruling, the last one in 1983, the Associated Press reports. Eleven days later, the governor commuted Hartfield’s sentence to life in prison, though technically there was no sentence to commute.

“Nothing got filed,” Hartfield told AP. “They had me thinking my case was on appeal for 27 years.”

Court documents say Hartfield has an IQ of 51 and is illiterate, but he tells AP he learned to read in prison. He contends he confessed to the murder of a bus station worker based on a “bogus statement” written by police, and he is innocent of the crime.

Hartfield is currently represented by Kenneth Hawk II, who told AP the case is a “one-in-a-million” situation. In October, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of Hartfield’s habeas petition because he had failed to exhaust state remedies.

The Texas court had ruled in 1980 that the state had violated Hartfield’s constitutional rights by striking a juror for cause because of her reservations about the death penalty, the 5th Circuit opinion (PDF) said. The determination affected only the sentence, but state law at the time required a new trial, according to the 5th Circuit.

Though the 5th Circuit said Hartfield needed to present his claims to state court, it did find that his claim is not time-barred because he was not in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court.

“The bottom line,” Hawk told AP, “is the commutation came after a mandate was issued. It wasn’t valid and it’s time for him to get a new trial.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.