Two wrongfully convicted men were released from prison. That's a good thing. But their actions after their release are questionable if what Anne Danaher is saying is true. She claims she is the lady responsible for their release and they haven't shared any of the nearly $12 million they have collected in settlement for their claim against the city for the wrongful conviction. If the facts as stated are true these men owe her their lives and probably some of their money. The
DES MOINES, Iowa — Anne Danaher is largely responsible for freeing
two Omaha men wrongly convicted
in a 1977 murder and now seeking $100
million from the police officers they claim framed them for the crime,
but as she watches the civil trial in a federal courtroom she wonders
why she’s never been compensated for her years of work on their behalf.
Danaher, now of Kansas City
, hopes Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee
will ultimately remember she’s the one who pursued their freedom for
nine years after they had exhausted appeals and attorneys
had given up.
If not, a lawsuit she’s filed could force at least one of the men to pay
Danaher for her work. “That’s what this is all about,” she said. “They do not want to pay me.” The civil trial began Nov. 1 in Des Moines and could conclude next week. Lawyers
for the men declined to comment on Danaher’s role in the matter.
Danaher was 37 and a prison barber at the Iowa State Penitentiary in
Fort Madison in 1993 when she met members of Harrington’s family at the
prison. That meeting and discussions with Harrington during 15-minute
haircuts convinced her he was innocent in the killing of a former
Council Bluffs police officer. “I sensed an injustice
based on my background of coming from Kansas City
and growing up in the inner city,” Danaher said. “I’ve always had a
passion for the pursuit of justice and I just took on that role and
wanted to correct an error that I believed had been committed.”
Harrington insisted that he wasn’t involved in the shotgun murder of
former police Capt. John Schweer, who was killed one night in July 1977
while working as a security guard for car dealerships in Council Bluffs. In 1994 Harrington asked Danaher for help. She had no law degree and
no background in criminal investigation, but she was determined to
understand how Harrington could have been convicted with no physical evidence
and on the testimony of several scared teenagers.
She soon discovered that Harrington had exhausted his appeals and
without new evidence
, he’d have to serve his life prison sentence.
Danaher, now 55, said Harrington agreed if he was ever freed, she’d
be paid for her help. Harrington even wrote and signed a promise to
share with her 20 percent of anything he might receive for a wrongful
conviction. She considers this a contract. Danaher quit her prison job to devote her time to researching the
case, working with Mary Kennedy, a lawyer from Waterloo who helped
inmates with appeals. Kennedy said Danaher’s commitment and belief in Harrington cannot be overstated.
“It was many, many years of just dead end after dead end after dead
end,” Kennedy said. “She drove everywhere and did everything. She slept
in her car. She drove five times a month for 10 years to the prison.”
Although two decades had passed since the original murder trial,
Danaher found key witnesses who said they had been threatened and
coerced to lie by police investigators and prosecutors. But it was in 1999 that Danaher stumbled upon the evidence
that would free the two men. She obtained the complete Council Bluffs police files in the Schweer
murder case and uncovered police reports that had not been provided to
the attorneys defending Harrington and McGhee. The reports describe a white man who had been seen by witnesses near
the car lot with a shotgun and that Schweer had confronted the man days
before he was shot. The reports indicated that police had considered the
man a suspect but stopped pursuing him after they began focusing on
Harrington and McGhee, two black teenagers from neighboring Omaha.
“When I looked at those reports my jaw just dropped,” Kennedy said.
“It’s unprecedented. Usually by that time the evidence is gone.”
Kennedy sought a new trial for Harrington based on newly discovered
evidence. It took three years and several appeals, but the Iowa Supreme
Court in February 2003 found that the withheld reports would have
allowed Harrington’s defense attorney to present an alternative suspect
in the Schweer murder. The evidence could have placed doubt in the minds
of jurors about the guilt of Harrington and McGhee.
The Supreme Court reversed Harrington’s conviction. It took a few
more legal maneuvers but by October 2003 both men were released after
spending 25 of their 43 years in prison. In 2005 they sued the prosecutors, Pottawattamie County, the investigating police officers and the city of Council Bluffs.
A federal judge found that the prosecutors violated the men’s
constitutional right to due process
. Appeals in the case ended up before
the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2009 the court heard arguments but before it
could rule, the county settled the case in January 2010 by offering
Harrington $7 million and McGhee nearly $5 million.
Danaher sought to be paid but has received no money from either man. Last year she filed a lawsuit seeking payment. A judge dismissed
McGhee’s portion of the case in March, concluding she couldn’t prove he
promised to pay her. McGhee’s attorney
, Steve Davis of Chicago, declined to comment.
The case involving Harrington is pending in U.S. District Court in
Des Moines and is scheduled for trial late next year. Harrington’s
attorneys did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Danaher said she and Harrington had grown close, but that ended once
he was released. Within nine days of getting out of prison he was back
in Omaha living a life that didn’t include her, she said.
Danaher has been in court daily during the trial, in which Harrington
and McGhee allege two retired Council Bluffs police officers and the
city should be held responsible for their wrongful imprisonment.
The city of Council Bluffs and the retired officers dispute
allegations they framed McGhee and Harrington and contend they had
enough evidence to take to prosecutors, noting the men were convicted in
two separate jury trials.
Danaher watches lawyers representing McGhee and Harrington use the
information she uncovered as they seek $100 million. Their attorneys
will get tens of millions of dollars if the jury rules in their favor.
Kennedy said she finds it unbelievable that they won’t share any money with Danaher.
“They don’t even acknowledge that she did anything,” Kennedy said.
“Even if they just reimbursed her for her expenses it would be a