Hartfield is currently represented by Kenneth Hawk II, who told AP the case is a “one-in-a-million” situation. In October, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of Hartfield’s habeas petition because he had failed to exhaust state remedies.
The Texas court had ruled in 1980 that the state had violated Hartfield’s constitutional rights by striking a juror for cause because of her reservations about the death penalty, the 5th Circuit opinion (PDF) said. The determination affected only the sentence, but state law at the time required a new trial, according to the 5th Circuit.
Though the 5th Circuit said Hartfield needed to present his claims to state court, it did find that his claim is not time-barred because he was not in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court.
"The bottom line," Hawk told AP, "is the commutation came after a mandate was issued. It wasn’t valid and it’s time for him to get a new trial.”