DES MOINES — The Iowa Court of Appeals has rejected the claims of a Wapello County man convicted of murder in 1997 who said a medical emergency fulfilled his life sentence.

Benjamin Schreiber was convicted in the 1996 beating death of John Terry. Court documents show in March 2015 large kidney stones “caused him to urinate internally, which in turn led him to developing septic poisoning.”

Schreiber collapsed in his prison cell and was taken to the hospital, where “he was resuscitated five times.” He underwent surgery and antibiotic treatment and eventually recovered.

According to the court’s ruling, “Schreiber filed this [post-conviction relief] application in April 2018. In it he claims he momentarily died at the hospital, thereby fulfilling his ‘life’ sentence … . Because his sentence has been fulfilled, he argues, he is imprisoned illegally and should be immediately released.”

The appeals court found that the plain meaning of the term life in prison means until the inmate is permanently dead. “We do not believe the legislature intended … to set criminal defendants free whenever medical procedures during their incarceration lead to their resuscitation by medical professionals.”

In rejecting the appeal, the court found that “Schreiber is either alive, in which he must remain in prison, or he is dead, in which case this appeal is moot.”

Matt Milner can be reached at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @mwmilner

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