Gage County makes its first payment on a $28 million judgment in Beatrice Six case

Gage County has made the first of several payments to those wrongly convicted of a 1985 slaying in Beatrice.

The first payment of $1.9 million was made this week on the $28 million judgment to the Beatrice Six, who were convicted in the slaying of 68-year-old Helen Wilson, TV station KWBE reported.

The Beatrice Six collectively spent more than 70 years in prison for a crime that DNA testing years later showed that they did not commit. A subsequent task force investigation led to a DNA match with an Oklahoma man who died in 1992 but had been in Beatrice the night Wilson was killed.

After they were cleared, the six sued the county, alleging that local law enforcement officials coerced false confessions and recklessly pursued the case. A jury awarded the $28 million judgment, and federal courts upheld it.

The case was one of the largest examples of wrongful confession and coerced testimony in the nation’s history.

Those wrongfully convicted in the case were Joseph E. White, Kathleen Gonzalez, Thomas Winslow, James Dean, Debra Shelden and Ada JoAnn Taylor. White died in a workplace accident in 2011, less than three years after he won his release from a life sentence by obtaining DNA testing of preserved crime scene evidence.

In April, Nebraska lawmakers overrode a gubernatorial veto of a bill clearing the way for Gage County to charge sales tax to help pay off the judgment. Legislative Bill 472, which was introduced by State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams, allows the Gage County Board to impose a countywide, half-cent sales tax without taking the issue to voters.

Gage County officials say it could be almost a decade before the entire judgment is paid. The county is relying on the half-cent sales tax and a maximum 50-cent property tax levy, which was raised in September, to help pay the judgment.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.