Former Death Row Inmate Imprisoned for 30 Years in Texas With No Conviction
A former death row inmate with intellectual disabilities has languished in the Texas prison system for over 30 years despite having no valid criminal conviction. Jerry Hartfield, an illiterate man with an IQ of 51, had his capital conviction overturned in 1980 because the jury at his trial had been improperly selected. A Texas appeals court ordered a new trial for Hartfield, but that trial has never happened. In 1983, then-Governor Mark White attempted to commute Hartfield's former death sentence to life without parole. However, a federal court has recently ruled that the commutation was irrelevant since Hartfield was not convicted of a crime. No action had been taken on the case until 2006, when another inmate helped Hartfield file a handwritten motion, asking that he be either retried or set free. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the petition, but a federal judge agreed with Hartfield, saying the decision overturning his conviction still stands. U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes said, "Hartfield's position is as straightforward and subtle as a freight train....The court's mandate was never recalled, its decision never overturned, the conviction never reinstated; yet Hartfield never received the 'entirely new trial' ordered by the court." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit called the state's defense of Hartfield's incarceration "disturbingly unprofessional" and returned the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for further action. Given the Sixth Amendment's right to a speedy trial, it is not clear that Hartfield could be re-tried.
(M. Graczyk, "Jerry Hartfield, Texas Inmate, Waits 30 Years for Retrial," Associated Press, November 29, 2012). UPDATE: Read the 5th Circuit's Opinion, Hartfield v. Thaler, No.11-40572, Nov. 28, 2012 (certifying question of Texas law to TX Ct. of Crim. App.). See Arbitrariness.