Man with IQ of 51, imprisoned for 30 years, never been convicted of a crime, still languishes in Texas prison system

Due process? Pshaw says Texas! An illiterate Kansas man with an IQ of 51, has  remained in a Texas prison for over 30 years after his murder conviction was overturned. Then-Governor Mark White attempted to commute Hartfield’s former death sentence to life without parole. This should have given them a clue that something is wrong: A federal court has recently ruled that the commutation was irrelevant since Hartfield was not convicted of a crime.

Image: Huffpo








But that’s OK, because no one seems to know what to do with the case. Oh Jesus. The stupid burns.

Death Row Penalty info:

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.

Via Huffington Post:

Hartfield was convicted and sentenced to die, but in 1980, a Texas appeals court ordered a new trial, saying a potential juror had been wrongly excluded from the original trial because of her reservations about imposing the death penalty.

State attorneys twice requested a rehearing on that decision, with the appeals court rejecting their second request on March 4, 1983.

Hartfield, described in court documents as illiterate and mentally impaired with an IQ of 51, got the ball rolling again in 2006, when he filed a handwritten writ of habeas corpus with the help of another inmate. The writ essentially said he should be retried or set free. It was rejected twice by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals before Hartfield submitted it in the federal court system.


The panel had said in October that it couldn’t make a formal decision on Hartfield’s complaint that his constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated because the issue hadn’t been resolved yet by his state trial court in Wharton County, about 60 miles southwest of Houston.

But the federal appeals judges left little doubt about their position, saying the state appeals court reversal 30 years ago meant “there was no longer a death sentence to commute, and thus the governor’s order could not have had any effect.”

The state’s request for a rehearing on that decision led to Wednesday’s ruling.

Hartfield is now 56, and was 21 when he was convicted.

For those who want to secede in Texas, do you think you can handle being on your own? Apparently, due process is a foreign concept to the law in Texas.

H/T: Digby


  • Congress

    So his IQ is higher than ALL of Congress.

  • Alan Carter

    Just horrible treatment of a human being. Where is his family/loved ones? Where is the criminal justice system in Texas?

    • That Guy

      By now many of them may not be alive anymore. 30 years is a hell of a long time.

  • Michael Cotton

    Yea you know he going to be a very rich man when he gets out…. Its messed up that texas is the so slow to get him out the door or at least give him a date when he should be getting put down or let him go