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Last week, one of six people wrongly convicted of killing a Beatrice woman in 1985 asked the state to garnish the wages of two Gage County sheriff’s deputies who helped put them behind bars.

James Dean, one of the so-called Beatrice 6, also is asking the U.S. Marshals Service to seize property from Deputy Burdette Searcey and Reserve Deputy Wayne Price.

Searcey, 68, retired from the Sheriff's Office on Wednesday.

Reached by phone Wednesday night, he said he has been thinking about retiring for two or three months, adding the decision had nothing to do with the Beatrice 6 case or the recent request that his wages be garnished.

In 1989, Searcey launched a cold-case investigation into the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson that led Dean and five others to serve a combined 75 years in prison before DNA testing indicated a seventh person killed the Beatrice widow. Price was a psychologist who had treated several of the six through a public health agency and then was one of their jailers.

It's not clear if Price is still on the sheriff's staff, but he was as recently as this fall.

In July a federal jury voted to give $28.1 million, plus attorney's fees, to Dean, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Kathy Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Tom Winslow and the estate of the late Joseph White, saying Gage County and the two deputies violated their civil rights. 

Since then, the county has explored a number of ways to come up with the money and is awaiting a decision from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on its request for a delay in making the payment until its appeal of the judgment is settled.

Dean's request, filed Friday by Lincoln attorney Herb Friedman, marks the first time any of the six has gone after Searcey or Price personally. Dean's share of the payout would be $2.7 million, including accrued interest.

The six have asked the county by letter for assurance that if the appeals court finds in their favor, the county will pay the judgment quickly. Attorneys for the county have said the county does not have the resources or constitutional authority to do so and could make no promises.

“As we have previously indicated, the county is exploring all of the possibilities open to it in responding to the jury’s verdict and will do so in a considered and timely manner,” attorney Patrick O’Brien wrote on behalf of Gage County.

Attorney Jennifer Tomka filed an emergency motion on behalf of the county on Tuesday asking for a stay in enforcing the garnishments and property seizures until the 8th Circuit decides the case.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said he would rule on the request if the county’s lawyers got affidavits from Searcey and Price saying they won't "sell, assign, transfer, convey, mortgage or otherwise dispose of or encumber any interest in real or personal property” without his permission.

“Until such affidavits are on file, the court will not rule on (Gage County’s) motion for a stay,” Kopf wrote in the order.

Searcey and Price filed the affidavits late Wednesday.

Earlier this week, they were served documents seeking information about their property and finances, according to case files. Both replied that they did not have sufficient funds or property to pay any of the judgments.

Meanwhile, Friedman said the county’s motion to stay enforcement of the judgment itself in an effort to “preserve the ‘status quo’” was not adequate.

“It should be noted that the status quo in this case means that appellee James Dean has received a final judgment after more than six years of litigation and two jury trials that needs to be paid immediately,” he wrote. “The process of collecting this judgment should not be delayed any further.”

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On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

Catharine Huddle contributed to this story.


Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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