- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The attorney general’s office is asking the state Court of Appeals to take a second look at the case of a Purvis man who was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in 2012 for conspiring to kill his wife.

In January, the Appeals Court ordered a new trial for Joseph Ronald Hartfield. The attorney general wants Hartfield’s conviction restored.

Authorities said the body of Tabitha Hartfield was found May 31, 2008, in a shallow grave deep in the woods of Lamar County. Authorities said she had been strangled, possibly up to a week before her discovery.

Joseph Hartfield was one of three people convicted in the case.

Ethan Dakota Dixon of Marion County was sentenced to 20 years on conspiracy and five years on accessory. Natasha Jean Graham of Lumberton was sentenced to life on a murder conviction and another 20 years on conspiracy.

At his trial, Hartfield sought to use letters Graham wrote to her mother, her boyfriend and Hartfield in his defense. Defense attorneys argued the letters allegedly showed Hartfield was not involved in his wife’s murder.

Prosecutor, however, argued the letters were hearsay.

The Appeals Court found the trial judge erred in not letting the jury hear the letters.

Defense attorneys said the letters were an exception to the hearsay rule because Graham refused to testify at Hartfield’s trial.

The Appeals Court’s said Graham’s accounts of the crime in the letter were collaborated by Dixon’s statements and testimony.

Graham’s admission of guilt in the letters is inconsistent with Hartfield’s alleged guilt. Graham admits cooperation with Dixon and details the steps they took. Graham acknowledged that the conspiracy to kill and bury Tabitha was between herself and Dixon, not Hartfield,” wrote Appeals Judge T. Kenneth Griffis.

In a dissent, Appeals Judge Tyree Irving said he did not read the letters to show Hartfield was not involved.

“A proper interpretation of Graham’s letters leads to the inescapable conclusion that she was not present when Tabitha was killed and that the circumstances surrounding Tabitha’s death were related to her by Dixon, although her account of the post-death circumstances is based on her personal knowledge.

Irving said the letters also show Graham had affection from Hartfield and that raises a question of trustworthiness.

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