Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release - Wednesday, February 26, 2003.

Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.

Statement of the Iowa Attorney General's Office
on Supreme Court Decision re
Terry Harrington.

The Iowa Supreme Court today overturned the first degree murder conviction of Terry Harrington. Harrington was convicted in 1978 of murdering John Schweer, a retired police officer who was working as a night watchman at a car dealership in Council Bluffs.

Mr. Harrington raised three grounds for vacating his conviction and granting him a new trial: (1) newly-discovered evidence that some of the State's trial witnesses have recanted their trial testimony; (2) evidence that police or prosecutors failed to disclose to the defendant prior to trial certain police reports which pointed to possible alternative suspects in the case; and, (3) newly-discovered evidence in the form of new "brain fingerprinting" technology which purported to show that the defendant was not at the scene of the crime and was, instead, at the scene of his alibi.

With one Justice dissenting, the Supreme Court reversed Harrington's conviction on the ground that the failure to disclose police reports denied defendant a fair trial. The Court ruled that withholding the reports compromised Harrington's defense at trial that he was not the person who shot Mr. Schweer.

The Iowa Supreme Court did not reach the issue of whether defendant would be entitled to a new trial based upon evidence that witnesses have recanted their trial testimony.

The Court also declined to rule on the admissibility or credibility of the "brain fingerprinting" evidence offered by Harrington. In its brief and argument to the Court, the State argued that brain fingerprinting is "junk science" that has no track record establishing its reliability. The State argued that the technique has been tested in the lab with fewer than 200 persons and has been used in the field in only a handful of cases. The State argued the technique should be treated similarly to lie-detector tests, which are inadmissible in Iowa and most other states. The Iowa Supreme Court did not determine the reliability of brain fingerprinting and did not rule on the admissibility of brain fingerprinting in Iowa courts.

The State is considering whether to seek rehearing on a narrow issue of law which would not affect the outcome of this case but which may be significant in subsequent cases. The State has fourteen days to file any motion to reconsider.

The practical effect of today's Supreme Court ruling is that the defendant will be released from custody upon issuance of the Court's "procedendo," or final order on the case, unless the Pottawattamie County Attorney elects to retry Harrington. (Procedendo does not issue until at least 15 days after the Court's opinion is filed, unless the Court shortens that period, which it has not done. Procedendo would be delayed if the State seeks rehearing, as procedendo will not be issued while a motion for rehearing is pending.

[END of Statement.]

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