DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Lawyers for two black men wrongly convicted in the 1977 murder of a retired white police officer told jurors in a civil trial Thursday that investigators coerced witnesses into fabricating testimony.
Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee are suing the city of Council Bluffs and two retired police investigators for more than $100 million. The men were sent to prison for life for the shotgun killing of John Schweer, a retired police captain who was working as a security guard for local car dealerships. Harrington and McGhee were freed in 2003 after 25 years in prison after the Iowa Supreme Court found prosecutors committed misconduct.
Pottawatamie County later agreed to pay $12 million to settle claims against two former prosecutors while not admitting wrongdoing, but the settlement did not resolve claims against Council Bluffs and former detectives Dan Larsen and Lyle Brown.
The city of Council Bluffs disputes allegations that the investigators framed McGhee and Harrington and contends the officers had enough evidence against them to take to prosecutors and to lead to convictions.
David Baker, who represents 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.
Harrington and McGhee, then teenagers, say 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.
Despite little physical evidence, Harrington and McGhee were convicted at 1978 trials.
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.