Iowa History Daily: A Wrongful Conviction

Iowa History Daily: On July 22, 1977, a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun killed 56-year-old retired police officer named John Schweer while he worked security at a Council Bluffs car dealership. Officials arrested, charged, and convicted teenagers Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee. After 25 years in prison, the Iowa Supreme Court voted to overturn Harrington’s conviction based on suppressed evidence and recanted testimony.

According to Harrington and several eye-witnesses including his high school football coach, the teenagers attended a concert in Omaha on the evening of the murder. While Schweer investigated a strange noise at the dealership, Harrington and McGhee allegedly danced along with the funk music stylings of the Ohio Players. Schweer, shot in the chest, struggled and ultimately died near the railroad tracks flanking the dealership.

Police started investigating the crime during the late summer, bent on delivering justice for their former brother in blue. With little physical evidence aside from a mysterious paw print near the Schweer’s body. When sixteen-year-old Kevin Hughes, a neighbor of Harrington, named three other men as the killer before ultimately fingering Harrington.

Despite the lack of physical evidence, murder weapon, and Harrington’s alabi, the prosecution built a case around Hughes’s testimony. Working to prove Harrington and McGhee left the concert in Omaha with the intention of stealing a car in Omaha, the prosecution convinced an all-white jury to convict both young men on first-degree murder charges. Sent to the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Harrington and McGhee maintained their innocence from behind bars.

Sixteen years into Harrington’s sentence he met Anne Danaher, a barber who cut hair for inmates at Fort Madison, who listened to his pleas for justice. Convinced, she worked tirelessly to track down witnesses, including Hughes, who recanted. Finding suppressed evidence kept from the defense including reports of a white man spotted near the car dealership on the night in question with a dog and shotgun in tow, Danaher’s efforts led to the Iowa Supreme Court granting Harrington release pending retrial in 2003 (the court ultimately decided not to retry the case). McGhee’s case took longer due to his guilty ‘Alford Plea’ in the original trial after the prosecution knowingly misled him. A 2011 motion to dismiss the guilty plea during January of 2011 was granted and the case was dismissed. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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