At the time, Hartfield, who grew up in Altus, Okla., had been working on the construction of a nuclear power plant near Bay City, which is about 100 miles southwest of Houston. He was arrested within days in Wichita, Kan., and while being returned to Texas, he made a confession to officers that he calls “a bogus statement they had written against me.” That alleged confession was among the key evidence used to convict Hartfield, along with an unused bus ticket found at the crime scene that had his fingerprints on it and testimony from witnesses who said he had talked about needing $3,000.
Scardino said he tried using an insanity defense for Hartfield and that psychiatrists called by the defense described Hartfield as “as crazy a human being as there was.”
Virginia Higdon, who lived next door to Lowe and knew her most of her life, told the AP that she spoke to Lowe the day she was killed and her friend complained of about a man who refused to leave the station.
“‘I can’t get rid of this guy. He’s just sitting there eating candy, a bag of candy,’” Higdon said her friend told her. “And it was Jerry Hartfield.”
She said it’s “absurd” that Hartfield might ever be released or retried.
Jurors deliberated for 3½ hours before convicting Hartfield of murder and another 20 minutes to decide he should die, Scardino said. He said the jury foreman later told him the jurors were “all farmers and ranchers down here, and when one of our animals goes crazy, we shoot it.”
Matagorda County District Attorney Steven Reis said with the appeal still pending, it’s premature to discuss a possible retrial of Hartfield. Lowe’s killing was particularly bloody and investigators found semen on her body, but Reis declined to say whether there was crime scene evidence from the case that could undergo DNA testing, which wasn’t available when Lowe was killed.
Scardino said that if Hartfield’s confession, which he believes authorities illegally obtained, is allowed at a retrial, Hartfield risks being sent back to death row.
“You have to think: Why would you undo something like that now when you might be looking at something like the death penalty?” he said.
But in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed executing mentally impaired people, a threshold generally accepted as below the IQ of 70.
Hartfield insists that he’s not angry that he’s spent nearly all of his entire adult life locked up, and he says he holds no grudges.
“Being a God-fearing person, he doesn’t allow me to be bitter,” he said. “He allows me to be forgiving. The things that cause damage to other people, including myself, that’s something I have to forgive.
“In order to be forgiven, you have to forgive.”