A court in the US has refused to release a convicted killer who argued that he had completed his life sentence when he briefly "died".

Benjamin Schreiber, 66, says his heart stopped five times on March 30, 2015, at a hospital where he'd been taken from the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.

He asserted that his life sentence ended when his heart stopped during the medical emergency, even though he was revived.

Wapello County court records say Benjamin Schreiber has been serving the life term since being convicted in 1997 of beating a man to death.

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District judges found little merit in Schreiber's argument, saying his filing confirmed he was still among the living.

The judges said Schreiber's bid – while original – was "unpersuasive".

The appeals court said: "Schreiber is either alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is dead, in which case this appeal is moot."

They said that he was "unlikely" to be dead, as he had signed his own legal documents in the case.

The court added that his sentence would not end until a medical examiner formally declared him dead.