Why Texas man has served 35 years in prison without conviction

The mentally ill Texas man was arrested in Wichita, Kansas, in 1976, a few days after the murder of the 55-year-old Eunice Lowe about 100 miles southwest of Houston.

Michael Graczyk/AP/File
Jerry Hartfield speaks from a visiting area at the Hughes Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice outside Gatesville, Texas, Dec. 11, 2012. Mr. Hatfield, locked up for more than 35 years even though an appeals court threw out his conviction for a 1976 slaying, returned to court Monday for a retrial.

Jerry Hartfield has been imprisoned for more than 35 years, despite the fact that his original conviction was overturned.

During Mr. Hartfield's retrial this month, his attorneys have argued that missing evidence and his questionable conviction should be enough to keep him from being found guilty.

On Wednesday Hartfield's lead attorney, Jay Wooten, told the jury that "a lot of things are missing from this case," and added that he doesn’t believe that his client’s confession to the murder was voluntary.

The mentally ill Texas man was arrested in Wichita, Kansas, in 1976, few days after the murder of Eunice Lowe about 100 miles southwest of Houston.

Hartfield, who was a construction worker in the Bay City area at the time of Mrs. Lowe's death, was initially convicted in 1977, and was on death row. That conviction was thrown out in 1980, due to a problem with jury selection. He has been in jail without conviction ever since.

Hartfield faces life in prison if convicted of capital murder in this week's retrial. Prosecutors in the new trial decided against seeking a death sentence after tests revealed that Hartfield is mentally impaired.

His attorneys say the evidence is not enough as the murder weapon couldn't be found and some evidence no longer exist. They also add many of the more than 125 people on the prosecution's witness list are dead or couldn't be found. While some of their testimony was read during the trial, his lawyers were unable to cross-examine them.

But Lisa Tanner, an assistant Texas attorney general assisting prosecutors, told the jury that the extenuating circumstances should not absolve him of the crime. She said Wednesday during closing arguments that Hartfield "butchered" Ms. Lowe "for a little bit of money." Nearly $3,000 and Lowe's car taken after her murder, and the car was recovered in Houston only after Hartfield told investigators where they could find it.

Hartfield's retrial began in early August, 35 years after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Hartfield's capital murder conviction.

His attorneys have been critical to the longterm inaction. "Regardless of how the time is parsed out, the delay between the initial conviction in 1977 and the trial ... is extraordinary," Mr. Wooten said in court documents.

"I don't hold no grudge," Hartfield told The Associated Press in 2012 from a Texas prison. "All I want to do is just get things right and get back on with my life again."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.