BEATRICE — Gage County plans to appeal the Beatrice 6 case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wednesday, the county board met for nearly two hours in closed session with attorneys in the case before deciding to appeal a recent decision by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
County Board Chairman Myron Dorn said the county has a seven-day stay on the $28.1 million judgment and is going to ask for an extension while the county appeals. He speculated it would be several months before a decision is made if the appeal is successful.
Gage County has spent more than $1.76 million in legal fees fighting the case. Dorn said that despite the hefty price tag, the county is examining every option in the case.
“We did this so we wouldn’t have the judgment that we ended up with and, unfortunately, that did not come to happen,” Dorn said. “It may have been a lot of money, but the county at this point needs to make sure we look at every available option in trying to get this verdict overturned. That’s why the board decided to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The board also approved hiring a financial consulting group out of Kansas City and an Omaha firm specializing in bonding and other options for the county. The votes were unanimous, with board member Matt Bauman absent.
Gage County previously requested the 8th Circuit Court rehear the appeal en banc, or by the entire court, rather than the three-judge panel that affirmed the verdict handed down by a U.S. District Court jury in 2016.
The so-called Beatrice 6 — Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow, James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden and the late Joseph White — were convicted in the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in her downtown Beatrice apartment, and ultimately spent a combined 75 years in prison until DNA evidence showed another man had committed the crime.
They sued Gage County in federal court for violating their civil rights in what they called a reckless investigation.
Jurors also found there had been no conspiracy and then-Gage County Sheriff Jerry DeWitt wasn’t liable for anything.
The county later appealed, and after more than a year of briefs and hearings, the 8th Circuit Court panel affirmed the verdict. This week, the circuit court denied the county's request for the entire court to hear the case.