From: The Atlantic, Jan. 7th 2013, by Andrew Cohen
A convicted murderer was granted a new trial in 1980. He never got one. So what’s he still doing in a state prison 32 years later?
When American civilization finally crumbles, and future historians download the wreckage, it is conceivable that they will cite the case of Jerry Hartfield to explain to their curious audience how law and justice in our time could be so bluntly subverted by the very men and women whose job it was to administer it. Look how these public officials elevated form over substance, our descendants will say; look how hard they defended such manifest injustice. Look how long it took for the justice system to do justice, even after it became clear to the world that a man was imprisoned for decades without a viable judgment against him.
Hartfield is a black man from Kansas who was quickly convicted in 1977 of murdering a white woman in the Deep South. He is a man who once recorded an IQ of 51, which is far beneath the level at which courts recognize mental retardation in criminal defendants. He is the inmate who remains locked in a Texas prison 32 years — 11,800 days — after a state appeals court reversed his murder conviction and ordered that he be given a new trial, a new trial he has never received. He is the prisoner who has continued to sit in a cell while state and federal judges, and state attorneys, piddle over the technicalities of his case.
It has now been more than six years since Hartfield first began to try to unravel the series of errors and omissions which resulted in his wrongful imprisonment. And it could be years more before the courts finally grant him relief. It’s hard to know which period is more infuriating: the 23 years during which Hartfield’s rights were left unprotected by the justice system; the half-decade or so years since, when state officials, including judges, have refused to help him; or the years more of legal briefings and oral argument that the man will likely have to endure before he gets some relief.