Lawyers: Men were framed for murder, seek ‘justice’
An article from the Des Moines Register

(December 7, 2012) Two men wrongly convicted of a 1977 murder who spent “25 years in hell, where there is no love, where love is a dirty word,” deserve nothing less than “full justice” for suffering caused by the Council Bluffs police department, lawyers told a federal court jury in Des Moines on Thursday.

“Full justice,” as defined by attorneys for Terry Harrington and Curtis “Cub” McGhee, requires that Council Bluffs and two white, former police detectives pay at least $115 million for allegedly framing the two black then-teenagers for the murder of white Council Bluffs Police Capt. John Schweer.

Closing arguments continue this morning in Harrington’s and McGhee’s five-week-long trial, alleging that their civil rights were violated by former detectives Daniel Larsen and Lyle Brown. Plaintiffs contend Council Bluffs officials showed deliberate indifference to what the officers were doing while Larson and Brown coerced witnesses into lying and hid evidence of another viable suspect in the killing from defense.

Lawyers contend the two detectives, under pressure to solve a high-profile police killing, pressured witnesses and ignored obvious lies told by a teenage car thief who had to be coached on many of the crime’s details.

“When you’re seen as an inferior, that’s when your rights disappear,” McGhee attorney Stephen Davis argued to jurors. Larsen and Brown “knowingly used a pack of lies to send these two black kids to prison, because they didn’t matter.”

Harrington and McGhee, then teenagers from Omaha, were convicted in 1978 of shooting Schweer with a 12-gauge shotgun while he worked night security at a Council Bluffs car dealership. They both served more than 25 years in prison before the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that prosecutors were guilty of misconduct by failing to turn over reports that another shotgun-toting man had been seen near the scene of the crime.

Plaintiffs say Charles Gates, then a 48-year-old loner who had been suspected in another murder, failed a lie detector test and disappeared after the Council Bluffs detectives told him he was a suspect in the Schweer killing. Roughly a month later, teen Kevin Hughes was pulled over in a vehicle stolen from an Omaha car dealership.

Harrington and McGhee say the detectives seized on Hughes’ bid for a “get-out-of-jail-free card” and coerced other members of a black teen car theft ring into backing up the story. Those teen witnesses — including one who said he agreed to sign a statement for police only after he was raped in jail — all recanted their statements when they were in their 40s.

Lawyers for Council Bluffs and the two police detectives, who dispute any charge of fabrication and have not conceded that Harrington and McGhee are innocent of Schweer’s killing, did not make any closing arguments Thursday.

Their turn is scheduled to come this morning, followed by a short plaintiffs’ rebuttal before the case goes to the jury.

Harrington attorney Gerry Spence on Thursday blasted what he described as Larsen’s and Brown’s racist habit of periodically driving from Council Bluffs to an Omaha ghetto in 1977, rolling up to black teens in a police car and asking, “Hey, bro, what do you have for us today?”

Spence described the practice as “entertainment” for the detectives and a danger to young men, who would immediately be suspected by their friends of being a police informant. “Can you fathom the sadisticness of that?” Spence asked. “Can you even make room for it in your mind?”

Spence, 83, is a renowned litigator who came to national prominence as a television commenter during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. He made no apologies for seeking a large settlement on Harrington’s behalf.

While a final reward amount will be set by the jury, that portion of the requested award includes $2 million for every year Harrington was incarcerated and $500,000 for every year that actuarial tables suggest he will continue to live with post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses.

Davis, who requested $52 million for McGhee, reminded jurors of the trauma involved in spending 25 years behind bars for a crime you didn’t commit.

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