Although a judge grouped all six lawsuits against Gage County filed by the Beatrice Six into one for an upcoming January jury trial, an attorney representing the county has asked the judge to separate the cases.
In a motion filed Thursday, Jennifer Tomka asked U.S. Judge Richard G. Kopf to separate the cases into separate proceedings for liability and damages to “avoid undue prejudice.”
“By separating the issues into separate trials, the jury would be able to consider the issue of liability first, only reviewing the relevant facts and evidence, and the Court could avoid the risk of jury confusion and prejudice in this matter,” Tomka wrote.
Separating the trials would also streamline the process, Tomka said, and would not violate any party’s constitutional rights to a jury trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl R. Zwart issued the ruling on Aug. 4, writing the “cases involve common questions of law and fact, and the defendants are represented by the same counsel. Consolidating the cases will serve the interest of justice and judicial economy.”
Five of the so-called Beatrice Six have been awarded compensation by the state of Nebraska after spending a combined 87 years in prison.
Joseph White, Thomas Winslow and Kathy Gonzalez received more than $1 million combined, while Ada JoAnn Taylor and James Dean were awarded $500,000 and $300,000, respectively, on Sept. 20, 2012 in Gage County District Court by Judge Daniel E. Bryan Jr. under the Nebraska Claims for Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment Act of 2009.
Taylor spent nearly 20 years in prison and Dean nearly 5 1/2 after pleading guilty to the 1985 rape and murder of the 65-year-old Beatrice widow in her downtown apartment.
White, the only person to maintain his innocence throughout the investigation, died in a work related accident in Alabama in 2011. His estate received $500,000 from the state after his death.
Debra Shelden's suit was filed after the appeals court's ruling and is pending in the court.