Attorneys for Texas defendant, Jerry Hartfield, have filed a motion seeking the dismissal of all charges against Hartfield because the state has violated his right to a speedy trial. Hartfield has been awaiting a retrial for more than three decades after his murder conviction was overturned. His lawyers say that he has suffered enough from the mishandling of his case including the fact that key evidence in the 1976 murder case has gone missing.
“The most serious prejudice a defendant can suffer in being denied a right to a speedy trial is to have his defense possibly impaired,” Jeffrey Newberry wrote in the defense motion.
The defense is requesting a dismissal with prejudice, meaning that Hartfield could not be retried for the same charges.
Hartfield, 57, was convicted in the 1976 murder of Eunice Lowe who was found beaten to death at the Bay City bus station where she worked as a ticket agent. He had been sentenced to death, but in 1980, his conviction was overturned due to errors. Prosecutors unsuccessfully appealed the ruling and despite the order for a new trial, then-Texas Gov. Mark White commuted Hartfield’s overturned death sentence to a life sentence in 1983.
Hartfield who dropped out of school in 5th grade and has an IQ of 51, did not challenge his continued detention until 2006 when another inmate informed him that once his conviction was overturned there was no sentence to commute. An appeals court agreed and ordered that Hartfield had to be released or retried. Hartfield, who has been waiting more than 30 years, is finally scheduled to stand trial in April of this year.
In a response motion, Matagorda County District Attorney Steven Reis rejects the assertion that Hartfield should be released. He acknowledges that the state “may be partially responsible” for the massive delay in retrying Hartfield, but the prosecution says they didn’t act in bad faith and that it is also Hartfield’s fault because Hartfield “failed to proffer any evidence that he wanted a speedy trial…”
The defense contends that the state’s claims are outrageous and that the state is the only one responsible for delaying the retrial, the state was responsible for carrying out the appeals court order of a new trial and “had the state carried out the (appeals court) mandate, Hartfield would not have needed to file the documents that he began filing. Mr. Hartfield has affirmatively demonstrated that his ability to present a defense has been prejudiced…”
Newberry also notes that authorities have lost key evidence including the pickaxe used in the attack and Lowe’s car, which was stolen and later recovered. In addition, a key prosecution witness, a Texas Ranger, has died.
At the time of the murder, Hartfield was working construction at a Texas power plant not far from the bus station. He was arrested within days of the murder in Wichita, Kansas. Hartfield says that he never confessed to the murder, as the police contend he did. His purported confession was used against him at his first trial. Prosecutors also presented at his original trial, an unused bus ticket found at the scene with Hartfield’s fingerprints on it as well as witnesses who said Hartfield needed $3,000. In addition, prosecutors said that they found Hartfield’s fingerprints on a broken Dr. Pepper bottle at the scene and that Hartfield told authorities where to find Lowe’s car as part of his disputed confession.