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Beatrice 6

The six people convicted and later cleared of killing Helen Wilson in 1985: (from top left) Joseph White, Tom Winslow, JoAnn Taylor, Deb Shelden, James Dean and Kathy Gonzalez.

Members of the public will have an opportunity Wednesday evening to ask questions about an upcoming sales tax Gage County will likely implement to raise funds to pay the Beatrice 6 judgment.

The Board of Supervisors will host a special meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. on the second floor of the courthouse. Board Chairman Erich Tiemann said the meeting is to educate the public and have a discussion about a sales tax made allowable this year by the legislature to raise funds for federal judgments.

The tax bill was introduced by District 30 senator Myron Dorn of Adams, and was tailored to fit Gage County’s predicament as the county looks for ways to pay the $28 million judgment.

Dorn will be at the meeting to discuss the tax. The bill allows counties to create a countywide half-cent sales tax, is only available for counties facing federal judgments of more than $25 million and only if their property tax levy is at the maximum allowable under state law.

The sales tax will sunset after seven years or when the judgment is paid in full, whichever comes first.

The sales tax is expected to generate as much as $1.3 million annually, which when combined with the $3.8 million the county expects to collect in additional property taxes, would allow Gage County to complete its obligation in roughly six years rather than eight.

In June Gage County made its first payment to the Beatrice 6 when the board approved a $1.9 million claim.

The board voted last September to raise the levy to the maximum allowable 50 cents. For taxpayers, that amounts to $120 annually on property valued at $100,000.

In March the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case, effectively sealing the county’s fate.

It was 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.

They 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 final option.

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