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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

He's Been Waiting More than 29 Years for His New Trial

What if Texas's highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, ordered a new trial for somebody and more than 32 years passed and the new trial was never held? This appears to have been what happened to Jerry Hartfield, creating embarrassment and legal puzzlement for lawyers and judges in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Jerry Hartfield's IQ is supposed to be 51. He has only recently come to be able to read and write. He was convicted of the savage capital murder of Eunice Lowe in Bay City, Matagorda County, Texas (Bay City in Matagorda County was where I was a prosecutor- super nice people, a great place for a nature vacation) in 1977. The Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction in 1980.
Now this is where it starts to get hinky. Now today if there was a problem with a sentence, but no problem with the adjudication of guilt, a case could be remanded for punishment only, but back then it was all or nothing. The State asked for the CCA to reform the sentence to life, but the court said it could not. In the alternative, the State asked for leave to ask the governor to commute the sentence. In the end, after having been asked by the Matagorda County Sheriff, the district attorney, the trial judge, and the Board of Pardons and Parole, the governor did so March 14, 1983. At that point, Hartfield's appointed counsel stopped working on the case.
On November 14, 2006, Hartfield applied for a writ of habeas corpus in the Matagorda County trial court. Thirteen days later, see supplemented his petition with request for a speedy trial, which the trial court forwarded to the CCA. On January 4, 2007, Hartfield sought a writ of mandamus from the CCA to get his trial. On January 31, 2007, the CCA denied all.
October 22, 2007, Hartfield filed a habeas application in the federal Southern District of Texas court in Houston. The prison system's counsel moved for summary judgment because Hartfield's application was more than a year after the judgment against him which was purportedly contrary to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The Houston magistrate judge demurred, ruling that Hartfield was not being held pursuant to a state judgment;  it had been reversed so that AEDPA didn't apply. The magistrate also held that Hatfield had not exhausted his state remedies- a state application for a pretrial writ of habeas corpus. Furthermore, the magistrate held that as a pretrial writ application it was in the wrong location. A non-judgment application like Hartfield's is supposed to be where the person is being detained which in this case was the Eastern District of Texas. Prison counsel appealed the ruling that Hartfield's application was not time-barred. Hartfield appealed the ruling that he had not exhausted state remedies. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Now prison counsel appears to be trying to get the Fifth Circuit to reconsider.
 It is very, very hard to represent capital defendants on appeal. A near-obsessive focus on deadlines is required and constantly keeping in mind the procedural posture of the case. Back in 1983, nobody wanted this case retried and it appears now that unless the Fifth Circuit changes its mind, Texas is going to have to retry and re-convict and re-sentence Hartfield or let him go.

Jerry Hartfield v. Rick Thaler, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division; No. 11-40572 (5th Cir. Oct. 9, 2012) 

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