A Lamar County judge denies a motion for a new trial for a mentally retarded teen after sentencing him to 100 years in prison.
Wired PR News – An 18 year-old mentally retarded male, previously sentenced to 100 years in prison for sexual assault was denied a new trial on Tuesday, despite the presiding judge issuing prior statements to the media that the teen did not belong in prison. The teen, whose name is Aaron Hart, was stated by court testimony to have an IQ in the range of 47 to 52.
During Hart’s trial, his life skills teacher of four years, Elizabeth Cole, testified that the teen functions at the level of a six year old or younger. The focus of the hearing was to determine whether Hart understood the implications of entering a guilty plea or his Miranda rights at the time of his arrest as well as the competency of his previous court appointed attorney, Ben Massar, who advised Hart to plead guilty to the crime. Massar testified at the hearing that he failed to obtain records or testimony that may have shed light on his client’s mental status and his competency to stand trial, or offer any challenge to the prosecution’s claims.
Judge Eric Clifford’s refusal to grant Hart a new trial was a retraction from the sympathetic tone the judge previously delivered to local media, in which he was said to have reportedly been in tears when originally handing down the sentence due to not having anywhere else to place him for the protection of the public.
Hart’s parents are now pleading for the release or safer placement of their son, whose mental capacity puts him at a higher risk for being assaulted in prison. The teen’s current attorney, David Pearson, has stated he will appeal his client’s conviction.