Texas Inmate Jerry Hartfield's Conviction Overturned In 1980, But He's Still In Prison With No New Trial

Written by Deborah Hastings for the New York Daily News

A Texas inmate with the critical thinking ability of a first-grader has been waiting some 34 years for a new trial. And now he'll wait some more.

In a recent ruling, a judge decided that Jerry Hartfield's constitutional right to a speedy trial had not been violated — despite being imprisoned since 1980 on a murder conviction that had been overturned — because, in essence, Hartfield did not ask for a new trial.

Judge Craig Estlinbaum found the state had been negligent in failing to retry the 56-year-old man, and that his ability to adequately defend himself had diminished over time, but he ultimately ruled Hartfield was responsible for his own incarceration because he failed to seek a new trial.

The decision is the latest in a series of confusing and baffling proceedings that have kept the Bay City man behind bars since his 1976 conviction for robbing and killing a bus station worker in 1976.

Hartfield, whose IQ has been estimated at 51, claims he is innocent and that police used a false confession against him. He was sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned in 1980 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal, which ruled a juror had been improperly dismissed for voicing concerns about capital punishment.

Prosecutors twice tried to persuade the court to reconsider that ruling, but failed.


And then things began to legally fall apart for Hartfield.

Then-Gov. Mark White, at the urging of prison officials, commuted Hartfield's sentence from death to life imprisonment in 1983. Whether he had been informed that Hartfield's conviction had been overturned is not known, according to Hartfield's current attorney, Jeffrey Newberry of the Texas Innocence Project.

What is now known, however, is that the governor's commutation was issued in error, Newberry said.

"He couldn't commute the sentence because there was nothing left to commute," Newberry told the Daily News Friday. "Mr. Hartfield should have had a new trial. But he didn't get one."

He didn't get one because he had no legal counsel after his trial.

In this proclamation, then-Gov. Mark White commuted Jerry Hartfield's death sentence to life in a Texas prison. But Hartfield’s attorney says the governor’s act was a mistake.

"So he just sat there," Newberry said.

Fast-forward to 2006, when a fellow inmate told Hartfield that he should have received a new trial after his conviction was overturned.

"Someone helped him write documents on his own saying 'Hey, I never got my new trial,''' Newberry said. Eventually, his handwritten legal filings resulted in him receiving a court-appointed attorney while he fought to be released.

Over the next eight years, his case bounced from federal court to state courts. Meanwhile, the murder weapon, a pick-axe, has been lost and witnesses have died.

In a jailhouse interview last year, Hartfield said he was not angry about what happened to him.


Jerry Hartfield was originally sentenced to Texas’ death chamber, seen here in Huntsville. His conviction was later overturned, but he remains behind bars.

He became a Christian behind bars, he said. “Being a God-fearing person, he doesn’t allow me to be bitter,” Hartfield said. “He allows me to be forgiving.” Newberry said he is appealing last week's most recent ruling in Hartfield's case.

He disputes Judge Estlinbaum assertion that no evidence was submitted of Hartfield's mental incapacity. He also disputes the logic of the decision, saying the judge essentially ruled "Mr. Hartfield's right to a speedy trial had not been violated … because the fact that he waited (to request a new trial) was an indication that he didn't want a new trial," Newberry said.

Separate proceedings to retry the criminal case are also underway, the attorney said. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for next month.

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Comment by Sayen M. on April 19, 2014 at 1:29pm
Comment by Sayen M. on April 19, 2014 at 1:29pm
Comment by Sayen M. on April 19, 2014 at 1:29pm
i have grown in Ethiopia, the only black nation that was not colonized by white people ( libya also was not colonized but they are arabs and white lol) , its the same. Satan is satan after all. Our goverment torments us the same way it torment you guys, if you go to politics, you will get beaten, prisoned and die. The way we won the war was by love, and by blood. Do a little research about where durag's really came from. (Emperor Menelik II)
Comment by BORN 2 REIGN on April 19, 2014 at 11:48am
HAre y'all paying attention now? Do you get it yet? Are you noticing a pattern here? Every time I turn around it's always either a Black Man being released from prison years later for a wrongful conviction or more railroading and stupid s*** like this. But y'all n***** don't wanna fight. Naw too busy "Keeping It Real". Lol. Naw Y'all don't wanna be free. Keep thinking you free cause these crackers passed a couple of laws letting y'all n***** go to they schools, restaurants, jobs etc. Lol. You just don't get it... There is a war on the Black Man and the sad part is it's happening right in front of you but you don't give a damn until it personally comes knocking at your door. Smh... Okey Dokey
Comment by Henry_corp on April 19, 2014 at 10:24am
sick... microphone over the death chair cameras an all.. to watch us minorities suffer... its a sick turn on
Comment by paul on April 18, 2014 at 11:31pm
The system is so corrupted and f***** up that a man like him is still locked up.
Comment by Jigg on April 18, 2014 at 10:37pm
those responsible for letting this man rot in prison need to be held accountable
Comment by NACIOUS on April 18, 2014 at 10:31pm
Comment by Dave on April 18, 2014 at 10:14pm
Man that's some real life B*******!!!!
Comment by tyris on April 18, 2014 at 9:41pm
U would think people like him family would step up and help them

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