Does a life sentence end if you briefly die? Inmate says yes, but Iowa court says no

An Iowa inmate claims his life sentence is complete because he already died — but doctors brought him back to life.

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

In 2015, Benjamin Schreiber, 66, collapsed inside his prison cell from septic poisoning after kidney stones caused him to “urinate internally,” according to an appeals court ruling this week. He was rushed from the Iowa State Penitentiary to the hospital, where doctors revived him five times with adrenaline and repaired his damaged organ.

Three years later, Schreiber sought to be freed when he argued in court that he fulfilled his life sentence after momentarily dying.

A district court disagreed with his argument, and Schreiber took the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

He didn’t fare any better there when the court ruled earlier this week.

“Schreiber is either alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is dead, in which case this appeal is moot,” a judge ruled.

Schreiber was convicted of murder in the beating death of a man in 1996, the Daily Iowegian reported.

He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the Des Moines Register reported. However, Schreiber argued that he was sentenced to life in prison, “but not to life plus one day,” the newspaper reported.

The district court found his argument was “unpersuasive and without merit,” The Washington Post reported.

The appeals court agreed.

“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.

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Chacour Koop is a Real-Time reporter based in Kansas City. Previously, he reported for the Associated Press, Galveston County Daily News and Daily Herald in Chicago.