- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed itself just weeks after granting a new trial in a lawsuit filed by six people wrongly accused of a 1985 rape and murder in Beatrice.

A mistrial was declared earlier this year in the $14 million lawsuit after a judge threw out some of the plaintiff’s claims. The lawsuit alleges that Gage County investigators recklessly wanted to close the case rather than seek justice, and that they coerced suspects into making incriminating statements.

The wrongfully convicted individuals appealed to the 8th Circuit, where a three-judge panel agreed in August to grant them a new trial. But on Thursday, the federal appeals court agreed instead to rehear the appeal following a request by Gage County and various county law enforcement officials who want the lawsuit dismissed, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (https://bit.ly/1NKbQJe ).

The wrongly convicted individuals, known as the Beatrice Six, served a combined 77 years in prison for the gruesome 1985 killing of 68-year-old Helen Wilson before they were cleared by DNA evidence in 2008. The crime has since been linked to Bruce Allen Smith, who grew up in Beatrice and returned to town days before the slaying and then quickly went back to Oklahoma. He died in 1992.

The six people wrongfully convicted were James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow and Joseph White. White died in 2011.

Investigators said three of the six confessed and implicated the others. White’s estate and the five others sued, alleging civil rights violations and accusing the county of failing to properly train investigators.

County officials challenged the group’s ability to retry the case, arguing it should be dismissed because the other side failed to show that officials’ actions violated anyone’s rights.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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