During a last-minute hearing Thursday morning, two attorneys from outside of Chambers County were retained to defend Sarah Hartsfield in her murder case.
Hartsfield, 48, was indicted by a Chambers County grand jury in February after her fifth husband, Joseph, died due to complications of toxic effects of insulin.
Ken Bigham of Schulenberg and James Reeves of Hallettsville were retained as defense attorneys. Hartsfield’s court-appointed defense attorney, Keaton Kirkwood, was discharged, according to the order signed by Judge Chap Cain.
According to prosecutors, Hartsfield did not go out and find the new lawyers herself -- a convicted felon went out and found the new attorneys for her.
“On a case of this magnitude, it’s not uncommon to see it take 12 to 18, maybe even 24 months to get to trial in some of these rural counties,” Reeves, who has never worked on a case in Chambers County, told KPRC 2.
It’s unclear if the retained attorneys are being paid or if they took the case pro bono, but at Hartsfield’s most recent hearing, she said her account had less than $200 in it, and that she believed her military disability benefits had significantly reduced. Reeves declined to comment on the financial arrangements.
Chambers County Assistant District Attorney Eric Carcerano said Hartsfield recently sent a text to another journalist, asking the journalist to verify the attorneys’ credentials because she “can’t afford to be taken advantage of by another man, personal or professional. I would look myself but I’m in here deliberately where I can do nothing for myself. I’ve been trying to shake this feeling but I really hope that I’m wrong.”
Carcerano said the journalist told Hartsfield they can’t interfere in attorney/client relationships, to which Hartsfield replied, “I just want to see how established he is and make sure he’s a valid attorney. He shows his bar card to visit but refuses to let them copy it. It just seems odd. And his partner, I’ve never seen or talked to him at all. I’m paying them all I have. It’s a scary thing to do blindly, but what choice do I have?”
The new lawyers filed a request for discovery after being retained on Thursday and said the state has already started sharing some of the evidence to be reviewed.
“It’s going to take me a little bit to get through all that and then to organize it in a manner that would make sense. And once that’s done, then we’ll look and see if we need any experts to help us,” Reeves said.
Bigham and Reeves filed a motion to substitute counsel late Friday. All parties agreed on Wednesday to a hearing, court coordinator Leticia Manning told KPRC 2, which was set for Thursday morning.
Reeves said one of his first priorities will be getting Hartsfield’s $4 million bond reduced. It has already been reduced twice from $5 million.
“I don’t think it’s excessive to see a bond somewhere in the low six figures on a murder, it’s just seven figures seems excessive,” Reeves said, noting that he believes the current bond is equivalent to no bond and that he’s never defended a murder suspect with such a high bond.
The attorney swap comes two months after Hartsfield tried to fire her court-appointed attorney and he filed a motion indicating there was a conflict of interest that couldn’t be resolved.
“When I initially met Mr. Kirkwood, he said my case was defensible, reasonable doubt was there without question,” Hartsfield wrote in a letter to the judge at the time. “My greatest issue is that Mr. Kirkwood is willing to drag this out for years, knowing I’ll have lost everything, will have nowhere to go when all is said and done, THEN will file a lawsuit.”
After a hearing in May, Hartsfield and Kirkwood agreed to keep working together, but Kirkwood told KPRC 2 his biggest issue with her was that he didn’t want her speaking to the media.
Investigators found up to 10 insulin pens on Joseph Hartsfield’s side of the bed and his family has told KPRC 2 he was planning to leave her in the days leading up to his death.
“He was leaving her. We went the next day and opened a checking account back up there where we live,” Joseph’s mother Helen Hartsfield told KPRC 2 in April. “He had already discussed moving with someone, and he just said, ‘Mom, I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. If I stay, she’s going to drive me crazy.’”
Hartsfield has maintained her innocence and in messages to KPRC 2 from jail, wrote: “As more and more truth comes out, I hope you’ll realize I was never dishonest as accused and I absolutely didn’t kill Joe or do anything to facilitate his death. No matter how much elected officials use me and this case to further thier own political aspirations, the real truth can’t be hidden forever.”
Meanwhile, Hartsfield is still under investigation in Minnesota, where she fatally shot her fiancé David Bragg in 2018 but was not charged initially because investigators ruled it self-defense.
A trial date for the Texas murder charge has not been set.
SEE MORE ON SARAH HARTSFIELD