Prosecutors alleged to have framed two innocent men for a murder agreed on a $12 million settlement Monday. A Supreme Court ruling could have clarified the limits of immunity for prosecutors – a legal issue that had even the Obama administration commenting on the case.
The US Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case over whether prosecutors who knowingly procure false testimony that leads to a wrongful conviction can later be sued for damages.
Lawyers announced that the parties in the underlying lawsuit had agreed to end the case in a $12 million settlement.
The two innocent men, Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee, had spent nearly 26 years in prison for a murder they didn’t commit. After the truth was discovered and they were released, they sued the prosecutors in Pottawattamie County, Iowa.
An investigation revealed that the prosecutors helped assemble and present false testimony that led to their convictions. Messrs. Harrington and McGhee had been sentenced to life in prison at hard labor with no possibility of parole.
The prosecutors fought the civil lawsuit, arguing that they were entitled to absolute immunity from such litigation for actions taken at trial.
The high court heard oral argument in the case on November 4. The case is Pottawattamie County v. McGhee and Harrington.
“Terry Harrington deserves this after his unwavering patience and perseverance as to his innocence,” said one of Harrington’s lawyers, Doug McCalla of Jackson, Wy. “Cases like Terry’s make it very clear that we need the powerful remedies provided by this country’s civil rights statutes.”
Harrington and McGhee are both African-American. They were teens when arrested and accused of murdering a recently retired local police officer who was working as a night security guard at a car dealership.
At his sentencing hearing more than 30 years ago in 1978, Harrington insisted that he was not guilty. “I just want you to know that no matter what happens, I know I’m innocent,” he told the court. “As long as, you know, I feel that inside, then I’m going to keep on fighting because I know I can’t see myself locked up for the rest of my life for something I didn’t do.”