Iowa inmate's claim he briefly died won't end life sentence

Clay Curtis
November 8, 2019

According to court records, he had developed kidney stones that were so large they "caused him to urinate internally".

An Iowa man serving a life sentence for murder lost his appeal for freedom after unsuccessfully arguing that his sentence was fulfilled after his heart had to be restarted five times.

He was unconscious when he arrived at the hospital, but doctors worked to save his life and succeeded.

An appeals court just ruled that's not how it works.

Benjamin Schreiber was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1997 after being convicted of first-degree murder.

Schreiber had argued in court that a brief brush with death should be his ticket to a new life outside of prison, in a weird case that has tested the definition of a "life sentence".

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"You can't just turn that switch off and on, you've got to perform every day if you're going to be accepted in a place like this".

The appeals court affirmed that ruling Wednesday, saying: "Schreiber is either alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is dead, in which case this appeal is moot".

In a court filing in April 2018, Schreiber claimed that because he had momentarily died, his life sentence had technically been completed.

The district court was not buying it, however, calling that argument "unpersuasive and without merit".

"We do not believe the legislature intended this provision, which defines the sentences for the most serious class of felonies under Iowa law and imposes its 'harshest penalty, ' to set criminal defendants free whenever medical procedures during their incarceration lead to their resuscitation by medical professionals", the court ruled.

The possibility that he is "dead", the court added in a footnote, seemed "unlikely" given that the appellant had himself signed legal documents in the case.

An attorney for Schreiber did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday morning.

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