Appeals court delays collection of Beatrice Six judgment

AP News
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Posted: Dec 06, 2016 12:02 PM

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) — A federal appeals court has stalled efforts by six people wrongfully convicted in a 1985 murder in Beatrice, Nebraska, to collect the millions of dollars they won in a lawsuit against Gage County and two law enforcement officials.

On Monday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the county's request to delay collection by the Beatrice Six until the county's appeal is decided. The court also delayed efforts by the six to garnish wages and seize property belonging to former Gage County Deputy Sheriff Burdette Searcey and reserve Deputy Wayne Price.

"You're never certain about anything, but that gives the county some time to research and look at what happens if the judgment stays," Myron Dorn, chairman of the Gage County Board of Supervisors, told the Lincoln Journal Star. "It gives us time to study different courses of action."

The county has hired a bankruptcy attorney to explore its options. An attorney for the county said the appeal likely won't be decided until mid-2017 or later.

In July, a jury awarded $28.1 million to the Beatrice Six for their wrongful conviction in the rape and killing of 68-year-old Helen Wilson. They spent more than a combined 75 years in prison until DNA evidence cleared them in 2008. The evidence instead pointed to an Oklahoma City man who died in 1992 and had been in Beatrice the day Wilson was killed.

The six sued Gage County and law enforcement officials — including Searcey and Price — for violating their civil rights, arguing that investigators recklessly strove to close the case despite contradictory evidence, rather than seek justice.

The six were Ada JoAnn Taylor, James Dean, Thomas Winslow, Kathy Gonzalez, Debra Shelden and Joseph White. White died in 2011, but his estate has been pursuing the case.