Woman exonerated on murder charge criticizes death penalty
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — One of the six people who was wrongly convicted in the 1985 rape and murder of a Beatrice woman is lending her voice to the campaign to keep Nebraska’s death penalty off the books.
Ada JoAnn Taylor urged voters Tuesday to reject capital punishment by voting “retain” in the Nov. 8 election. Taylor served nearly 20 years in prison after confessing to the crime under the threat that she could be executed if she was convicted at trial.
All six people who were convicted in the murder of Helen Wilson were cleared by DNA evidence in 2008. In July, a jury awarded them $28 million in damages for a reckless investigation that forced the group to collectively serve more than 70 years in prison. The man who was tied to the rape and murder, Bruce Allen Smith, died in Oklahoma City in 1992.
Taylor said she was grateful when lawmakers abolished the death penalty in May 2015 and believes voters should uphold their decision to prevent the pressure she experienced under interrogation. Taylor, who suffers from mental health problems, said authorities told her she would be the first woman on Nebraska’s death row if she did not admit to the crime.
“I wouldn’t wish this kind of heartache and stress on my worst enemy,” she said at a press conference organized by the death penalty opposition group Retain a Just Nebraska.
Taylor’s attorney, Jeff Patterson, said authorities sometimes use the “terrifying and overwhelming” threat of the death penalty as leverage to force suspects into plea deals.
“With enough pressure, everybody has a breaking point,” he said.
Retain a Just Nebraska also announced that it has started to air television ads featuring Taylor throughout the state. Dan Parsons, the group’s spokesman, said death penalty opponents hope to convey the same message that persuaded a majority of lawmakers to end capital punishment. Death penalty opponents have also argued that the punishment is too expensive and will never be implemented because of legal and logistical hurdles.
“We feel we’ve been successful in delivering these messages,” Parsons said.
Death penalty supporters say the punishment is used judiciously in Nebraska and is only reserved for the most heinous of murders. They also have noted that none of the six accused in the Beatrice case were executed.