Jerry Hartfield’s conviction for robbing and murdering a bus-station worker in 1976 was overturned in 1980—and yet the now 56-year-old man has remained in prison ever since, with the hope of a new trial seeming like an increasingly long shot.
According to the Daily News, a judge recently decided that Hartfield’s constitutional right to an immediate trial was not dishonored, despite the peculiar circumstances of his prolonged imprisonment, because the Texas inmate—who reportedly has an IQ of around 51—did not ask for a new trial. In essence, the judge held Hartfield accountable for his own continued incarceration because he did not pursue a new trial.
Hartfield has long maintained his innocence, saying that authorities at the time of his trial used a false confession against him. The inmate escaped the death penalty in 1980 when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction, saying that a juror had been wrongly rejected for expressing concerns about capital punishment, the Daily News notes.
Nonetheless, prosecutors have pushed for the death penalty to be reconsidered, luckily to no avail. But that is where Hartfield’s “luck” ran out.
In 1983 Hartfield’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by then-Gov. Mark White, even though there was nothing to commute. It is unknown whether the governor knew of the overturned conviction.
Hartfield had no legal counsel after the trial, so according to his current lawyer, Jeffrey Newberry, “he just sat there,” without reaching out to get a retrial. It took another inmate’s advice to Hartfield in 2006 to look into a retrial for him to start working on his legal filings, which eventually led to his receiving a court-appointed lawyer.
As his trial went back and forth between federal and state courts, witnesses died and the murder weapon was lost. And yet the man who lost more than three decades of his life is somehow at peace. “Being a God-fearing person, he doesn’t allow me to be bitter,” Hartfield, who became a Christian in prison, said, according to the Daily News. “He allows me to be forgiving.”
In the meantime, his lawyer is appealing the most recent decision.
Read more at the Daily News.