A 59-year-old mentally ill Texas man imprisoned for more than 35 years despite his original murder conviction being overturned was found guilty a second time yesterday in his retrial. Jerry Hartfield, 59, was convicted of murder in the September 1976 slaying of 55-year-old Eunice Lowe, who sold tickets at a bus station in Bay City, about 100 miles southwest of Houston. An assistant Texas AG assisting prosecutors told jurors that Hartfield "butchered" Lowe "for a little bit of money" (evidence showed nearly $3,000 and Lowe's car were taken), and trial testimony showed Lowe was beaten with a pickax that left her fatally wounded and that her attacker had sex with her after she was dead. But Hartfield's lead attorney said that missing and shaky evidence and a questionable confession should have been enough to keep his client from being convicted again: The murder weapon couldn't be found and Lowe's car no longer existed, for instance.
Hartfield initially was on death row; prosecutors decided against seeking a death sentence in the retrial after evidence showed he's mentally impaired. Hartfield's original 1977 conviction was thrown out on appeal in 1980 because of a problem with jury selection. In 1983, then-Gov. Mark White commuted his sentence to life, but federal courts more recently decided the governor didn't have a sentence to commute. The sentencing phase will begin today, the judge said. Hartfield faces five to 99 years in prison or a life sentence; he could be immediately eligible for parole because of time served. Neither the defense attorneys nor the prosecutors would comment on the verdict, though the two defense attorneys fist-bumped after the jurors were let out of the courtroom.