- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - Gage County has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court decision that gives six people wrongly convicted in a 1985 slaying another chance at suing officials who prosecuted them.

An attorney for the southeastern Nebraska county, Jennifer Tomka, is hoping to reverse the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued in December, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (https://bit.ly/1TTMtp6 ).

That ruling revived the federal lawsuit of the wrongly convicted people - known as the Beatrice Six - against Gage County and the officials who built the murder cases against them.

Attorneys for the six haven’t yet responded to Tomka’s petition.

The six people - James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow and Joseph White - were wrongly convicted in the 1985 killing of Helen Wilson in Beatrice and served a combined 77 years in prison before DNA testing cleared them in 2008.

They were the first people in the state cleared by DNA evidence, which was made possible by a 2007 Nebraska Supreme Court ruling.

Wilson’s killing has since been linked though DNA evidence to Bruce Allen Smith, who grew up in Beatrice and returned to town days before the slaying, then quickly went back to Oklahoma. He died in 1992.

The Beatrice Six have argued that Gage County investigators recklessly strove to close the case despite contradictory evidence, rather than seek justice.

Tomka has argued that Gage County should not be held liable for actions taken by the sheriff, because the county had no control of or authority over the sheriff or his deputies. The county did not conduct the investigation, seek arrest warrants or arrest the six, she said.


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

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