- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Gage County has appealed a jury’s verdict awarding more than $28 million to six people who were wrongfully convicted in the 1985 slaying of a southeast Nebraska woman.

The appeal was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Lincoln. The county wants a judge to set aside the verdict or order another trial.

The county argues in its appeal that there wasn’t enough evidence to find against the county and law enforcement officials and for the six convicted in the rape and killing of 68-year-old Helen Wilson, of Beatrice. It also says the jury was tainted by statements that the six were innocent and says the award was too high.

“The verdict at over $28 million is excessive and certainly is evidence that plaintiffs’ effort to maximize their damages by repeatedly mentioning they were innocent was accomplished,” the appeal filing says.

The six have become known as the Beatrice Six. An attorney for them, Maren Chaloupka, declined to comment Thursday.

The jury decided in the second trial - the first ended in a mistrial last year - that investigators recklessly strove to close the case despite contradictory evidence. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in ordering a second trial that there was substantial evidence to support the idea that county officials conspired to convict the six. That includes evidence that investigators conducted unreported interrogations and ignored verifiable alibis.

James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow and Joseph White served a combined 77 years in prison before DNA testing cleared them in 2008. Wilson’s killing has since been linked to Bruce Allen Smith, who grew up in Beatrice, returned to the town days before the slaying and then quickly went back to Oklahoma. He died in 1992.

Joseph White died in 2011.

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