Two months after a group of Nebraskans dubbed the “Beatrice Six” brought a civil suit against Gage County and various law enforcement officials involved in their wrongful convictions, a federal judge said the group’s lawyers can proceed with an appeal of his decision to dismiss Gage County from their wrongful prosecution lawsuit.
The Associated Press reported that such appeals are usually allowed only after a final decision has been reached in a lawsuit, but in this case, the lawsuit ended in a mistrial in late January when the jury failed to reach a verdict after three days.
In 1985, Helen Wilson, a 65-year-old woman from Beatrice, Nebraska, was raped and murdered in her home. Joseph White, Thomas Winslow, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Debra Shelden, James Dean and Kathy Gonzalez were convicted of the crime four years later based on faulty forensics and false confessions. They served a combined 77 years in prison. The group claims authorities conducted a reckless investigation, manufactured evidence against them and failed to properly train the sheriff’s officials who conducted the investigation. But U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf said that the exonerees failed to present any real evidence that Gage County failed to train the sheriff’s investigators, and he dismissed the county from the lawsuit.
The estate of White, who died in 2011, and the surviving five were seeking at least $14 million in damages, saying their civil rights were violated and they were coerced into making damaging statements. Three of the six confessed and implicated the others.
The Associated Press reports:
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf said the plaintiffs should not have to wait until the end of the second trial before being allowed to appeal the dismissal of the county.
“If the plaintiffs were successful on appeal, a third trial would then be necessary,” Kopf wrote in his order. “This would not be an efficient use of judicial resources, and it would subject all parties to unnecessary expense and other burdens of trial.”