New trial set for man in Texas prison 30 years

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Associated Press

Posted on June 19, 2014 at 3:03 AM

BAY CITY, Texas (AP) — A judge on Wednesday set a Sept. 22 retrial for a man kept in a Texas prison for more than three decades since his murder conviction was overturned.

Jerry Hartfield, 58, was convicted in 1977 and sent to death row for the fatal beating of Eunice Lowe at the Bay City bus station where she worked as a ticket agent. His original conviction was overturned and his sentence commuted, but no action on a retrial ever was taken.

At a hearing where state District Judge Craig Estlinbaum set the trial date, Matagorda County District Attorney Steven Reis said he's offered Hartfield a deal to plead guilty to the slaying, take a life prison term and avoid a new trial and a possible second death sentence if he waives all future appeal rights.

"That's the significant thing with any plea of guilty," Reis said. "He's giving up his rights to complain."

Hartfield's attorneys have until July 2 to respond to the offer.

Prosecutors also submitted to Hartfield's lawyers Wednesday the results of new DNA testing that link Hartfield to the 1976 crime scene. They said more sophisticated DNA testing was not yet completed.

Estlinbaum also set a July 2 hearing on a request from prosecutors to conduct psychological testing on Hartfield, who is described in court documents as an illiterate fifth-grade dropout with an IQ of 51.

His lawyers have been seeking a speedy trial, saying he's suffered enough from mishandling of his case.

Hartfield's conviction was overturned in 1980. After prosecutors unsuccessfully appealed that ruling, then-Gov. Mark White commuted Hartfield's sentence to life in prison in 1983.

Hartfield didn't challenge his continued detention until 2006, when a fellow prisoner pointed out that once his conviction was overturned, there was no sentence to commute. Appeals courts agreed and ordered Hartfield freed or retried.

Reis has opposed freeing Hartfield, who appeared in court Wednesday in handcuffs and ankle chains and wearing a black and white striped county jail suit.

The prosecutor has acknowledged the state "may be partially responsible" for the delay in retrying Hartfield, but has argued prosecutors didn't act in bad faith and that Hartfield bears some responsibility since he didn't do anything earlier to assert that his right to a speedy trial had been violated or that the state deliberately acted to delay a retrial.

Hartfield's lawyers contend the state was solely responsible for the retrial delay.

At the time of the killing, Hartfield, who grew up in Altus, Oklahoma, was working construction at nuclear power plant near the bus station where Lowe worked. He was arrested within days of the killing in Wichita, Kansas.

Hartfield disputes a confession police said he gave them that was among the evidence used to convict him. He led authorities to Lowe's missing car in Houston.

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