An appeal will be made of the ruling that Gage County must pay a $28 million judgment against it for the false conviction and imprisonment of six people in the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in her Beatrice apartment.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial court decision against the county in the so-called Beatrice 6 case.
The Gage County Board of Supervisors met in closed session for an hour-an-a-half today and voted unanimously to authorize an appeal of the full court.
Attorney Patrick O’Brien says he’s hopeful the court will hear the county’s appeal.
“Obviously (we) want them to reverse the opinion, but we’re asking them to take another look at it,” O’Brien tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KWBE. “It’s a motion that is commonly filed in cases of this magnitude.”
O’Brien concedes the county is fighting an uphill battle.
“En banc hearings are rarely granted,” O’Brien concedes. “They usually arise when there are significant questions of law that we believe exist in this case or a panel has done something that the entire court may not agree with. But, that’s something we’ll just have to see what the court does with the petition once they get it.”
DNA evidence cleared the six of the rape and murder of Wilson. It pointed to Bruce Allen Smith as the culprit. Smith died in an Oklahoma prison cell. The state pardoned the Beatrice 6 in 2009.
O’Brien says the county wants the full appeals court to review the same issues considered by the three-judge panel.
“Because we believe the panel did not examine the legal issues that we raised carefully enough,” according to O’Brien.
The three-judge panel issued a 25-page opinion Monday upholding the jury verdict.
Gage County had appealed the verdict against it in the convictions of Joseph White, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow, Debra Shelden, Kathleen Gonzalez, and James Dean. White was convicted at trial. The others reached plea agreements. All served time in prison.
Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this story.