An Iowa prisoner serving a life sentence for murder died in a hospital before being revived. Now he claims that his death ended his life sentence, and he should be freed.
As The Des Moines Register via USA Today reports, Benjamin Schreiber had been behind bars since 1997 after being convicted of first degree murder. In March 2015, he developed large kidney stones, which led to septic poisoning. Schreiber's suit claims that his heart stopped five times, and he was revived five times, on the way to the hospital, according to Cedar Rapids' KCRG-TV.
At the hospital, doctors administered resuscitation fluids, which saved his life.
Additionally, it seems that both Schreiber's wishes and the wishes of a family member tasked with making end-of-life decisions for Schreiber were not honored. The inmate had signed a "do not resuscitate" (DNR) order, meaning that hospital staff were not to undergo efforts to revive him if he died. Further, Schreiber's brother, when contacted on the phone by officials, told hospital staff it was OK to give him medicine to relieve his pain if he was suffering, but weren't authorized to revive him if he died.
Revive him they did, and he underwent surgery to repair the damage done to his kidneys by the stones. Eventually, he was healthy enough to return to prison to serve the remainder of his time.
In a lawsuit filed in April 2018, Schreiber argued that his death in the hospital, as well as the claim that his wishes to be allowed to die weren't honored, effectively marked the end of his "life" sentence. Further, he noted that his sentence was "life," not "life plus one day" as it is handed down in some courts.
The first court to hear his case called it "unpersuasive and without merit." He appealed, and an appellate court ruled that, unless and until a medical examiner deemed him dead, he wasn't legally dead. Further, a judge noted that, inasmuch as Schreiber is living and breathing and standing before her, he still needs to be behind bars serving his life sentence.
"Schreiber is either still alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is actually dead, in which case this appeal is moot," the court said.
The appeals court did not rule on the more technical matter of his wishes not being granted, due to the lower court having dismissed the case without issuing an opinion on that particular matter. Absent an opinion on those issues, the appeals court was unable to rule.
It remains unclear, as of this writing, if Schreiber intends to appeal his case to an even higher court.