County still awaiting Supreme Court decision in Beatrice 6 case

January 17, 2019 GMT

Gage County officials are still waiting to hear if the U.S. Supreme Court will consider their appeal of the $28.1 million verdict in the Beatrice 6 case.

The board filed its petition last November has been waiting to hear from the court. During a brief update at Wednesday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting, County Attorney Roger Harris discussed where the process is at.

“We’ve got a request for review by the United States Supreme Court being considered and the Beatrice 6’s attorney decided not to file a response to our writ,” he said. “We got notified a week ago that the Supreme Court has requested that they file a response, so obviously they’re looking at it, which is a good thing.”

Harris said the response is to be filed by Feb. 8, and there’s no time frame beyond that regarding when the Supreme Court will decide to hear the appeal or not.

Taking the issue to the Supreme Court is the last legal option available to Gage County in the federal civil rights case filed by Joseph White, Ada JoAnn Taylor, James Dean, Thomas Winslow, Kathleen Gonzalez and Debra Shelden in 2009.

Following a 1989 cold case investigation into the rape and murder of Helen Wilson in her downtown Beatrice apartment four years earlier, the six were convicted and spent a combined 75 years in prison.

DNA evidence later pointed to a seventh person — Bruce Allen Smith, who died in 1992 — as the actual perpetrator.

The six were exonerated in 2008, and the next year, sued Gage County for the reckless investigation that landed them in prison.

After two mistrials, a federal jury found enough evidence that then-deputy Burdette Searcey and then-reserve deputy Wayne Price had violated the six’s rights, awarding them a combined $28.1 million.

Gage County appealed the decision to a three-judge panel from the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but the panel affirmed the jury verdict in June. The 8th Circuit later rejected Gage County’s petition for the appeal to be heard by the full court in July, leaving the Supreme Court as the county’s only option remaining.