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Wrongfull Imprisonment Case Ends in Mistrial
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) A judge declared a mistrial Friday in the case of two black men who sought millions of dollars from Council Bluffs and two police officers after being wrongly convicted in the 1977 murder of a retired white police officer.
On Friday, Judge Robert Pratt declared a mistrial after determining a jury couldn't reach a unanimous decision.
Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee, both of Omaha, Neb., filed the lawsuit, saying they deserved payment for spending 25 years in prison. Harrington sought more than $60 million and McGhee more than $50 million.
They alleged that retired officers Dan Larsen and Lyle Brown coerced witnesses into lying and hid evidence from their attorneys in the 1978 trials.
Both men were sentenced to life in prison, for the shooting death of John Schweer, a retired police captain who was working as a security guard for a Council Bluffs car dealership. Harrington and McGhee were freed in 2003 after 25 years in prison after the Iowa Supreme Court found prosecutors committed misconduct.
Opening arguments in the case began Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court in Des Moines and ended Friday after 21 days of arguments and testimony in the courtroom.
Pottawattamie County in 2010 agreed to pay the two men $12 million to settle claims against two former prosecutors while not admitting wrongdoing. The settlement did not include claims against Council Bluffs and former detectives Larsen and Brown and the case went to trial.
Harrington and McGhee said detectives used threats against a group of young black car theft suspects to trump up evidence, targeting them because of their race and pressure to solve the retired captain's killing.
Harrington's attorney, Gerry Spence, told jurors the police officers "betrayed law and order, betrayed the oath they took as police officers and they betrayed their duty to protect us all."
"If they can do it to the least of us they can do it to anybody," he said.
The city of Council Bluffs disputed allegations that the investigators framed McGhee and Harrington and contended the officers had enough evidence against them to take to prosecutors and to lead to convictions in two separate trials.
David Baker, who represented Larsen and Brown, said the officers were determined to find who killed Schweer and it makes no sense that they would try to frame someone else.
"I believe the evidence before you will be that the very last thing my clients wanted to happen was for the true killer of Mr. Schweer to go free," he told jurors as the case began.
A prison barber, Anne Danaher, befriended Harrington and believed his story that he was innocent. She dug into the case and discovered evidence in the police files that would have pointed to another suspect that had not been provided to defense attorneys.
The Iowa Supreme Court found that prosecutors committed misconduct in concealing reports about another man seen near the crime scene with a shotgun. Key witnesses had also recanted their testimony, saying they were pressured into implicating the men.