- Published: June 5, 2015
In 1977, Terry Harrington was put to jail after supposedly murdering John Schweer,a parking lot security guard of a car dealership in Council Bluffs. Harrington, 17-years-old at the time, pleaded innocence, saying that he had been at a concert with friends the night of the killing and many witnesses confirmed this alibi. But, the primary prosecution witness, Kevin Hughes—16-years-old at the time—developed a detailed account of crime with Harrington as the perpetrator. The jury believed Hughes, found Harrington guilty, and sent him to prison for life without parole. But Harrington continued to declare his innocence over the next 24 years in jail.
However, in the court case of Harrington vs. State of Iowa in 2003, Harrington went back to court in attempt to reverse the verdict due to new scientific “evidence.” Dr. Lawrence Farwell used a technique called Brain Fingerprinting to show that the record of information stored in Harrington's brain doesn't match the crime scene but does match his alibi. The testing showed that many significant details of the crime were not stored in Harrington's brain. The techniques showed that—to a 99.9% statistical confidence level—he did not commit the crime. His lawyer, Mary Kennedy, got him released from prison by getting the “brain fingerprinting” technique admitted as evidence in court. In addition, upon confrontation by Dr. Farwell, Hughes recanted his previous testimony, admitting that he had falsely accused Harrington to avoid being prosecuted for the murder himself. Other witnesses admitted to having lied at the original trial as well, and most of these witnesses were linked to Hughes.
This trial is extremely relevent to the field of Neurolaw, as it established the usage of Brain Fingerprinting as a veritable source of evidence in a court case. The basis of Brain Fingerprinting is that it supposedly shows when someone has a genuine memory of an event by identifying a particular brain activation pattern. The technique has also been used to obtain evidence for a guilty plea. The technique has consistently provided viable, accurate results to a high degree. And I believe that it's potential for change in the legal realm is vast, on the same scale as DNA testing.
It is reminiscent of DNA testing due to its ability to change the verdicts of cases that were committed far in the past. It's remarkable to think that Harrington would still be in prison for an act he is not guilty of if this new technology had not been available. Although I normally tend to believe that such technologies should not be used in the justice system due to the fact that they are not full-proof and seem a little controversial, Brain Fingerprinting has had consistent accuracy and, personally, I'm really glad that it has been granted admissible to use in criminal justice.
This is not to say that further research should not be performed to learn more about the causes of the patterns observed in Brain Fingerprinting when one is asked to recall a memory. The more evidence and scientific knowledge there is to support a currently controversial cause, the better. But, I believe that the risks involved in using Brain Fingerprinting with it's current degree of accuracy do not compare to the potential successes it may bring about.
Harmanci, Reyhan. “Key Court Cases Involving Neuroscience.” San Francisco Chronicle. 16 November, 2008. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/17/MN6T13G4RU.DTL
“Iowa Supreme Court Reverses Harrington Murder Conviction after 24 Years; Brain Fingerprinting Test Supports Innocence.” Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories. 16 November, 2008. http://www.brainwavescience.com/IowaSupCourtPR.php
Moensons, Andre. “Brain Fingerprinting—Is it a reliable tool?” Behavioral Evidence. 16 November, 2008. http://forensic-evidence.com/site/Behv_Evid/brainfps_add.html
Rosenfield, J. Peter. “Brain Fingerprinting: A critical analysis.” The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. 16 November, 2008. http://www.srmhp.org/0401/brain-fingerprinting.html
Siebert, Mark. “Free Man: Case dismissed against man who served 25 years.” Des Moines Register. 16, November, 2008. http://www.truthinjustice.org/harrington.htm