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Beatrice 6 to receive compensation, by legislature

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Payment to members of Beatrice 6 advanced by Legislature

By JOANNE YOUNG, May 4th 2015

Senators made points about DNA testing and the death penalty Friday before advancing a bill that would make payments to people for claims against the state.

Those claims, advanced to a second round of consideration, included three by members of the so-called Beatrice 6, for wrongful conviction in the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in her Beatrice apartment.

James Dean, Ada Joann Taylor and Debra Shelden would be awarded claims of about $1.15 million total under the Nebraska Wrongful Conviction Act.

Others in the Beatrice 6 received money from the state in claims paid in 2011.

“It’s not a bill that we all want to pay,” said Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins. “It’s simply one of those bills that has to be paid.”

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who introduced a bill (LB268) that would repeal Nebraska’s death penalty, said in the cases of Dean, Taylor and Shelden, the death penalty — used to threaten and intimidate the defendants — did not serve the interest of justice. It resulted, instead, in people pleading guilty or no contest to crimes they knew nothing about.

As a result, he said, the state is now paying the last of a $2 million debt that doesn’t come close to doing justice, Chambers said.

Those who want to keep the death penalty want to continue to allow cops to lie and badger mentally ill people until they plead guilty, Chambers said.

Consideration of new DNA evidence is what helped free the Beatrice 6. Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks’ DNA bill (LB245) that would lengthen the time limit, from three to five years, during which new evidence can be considered after conviction, passed recently and was signed by the governor.

“That’s part of being smart on crime and not necessarily tough on crime,” she said. “We have to be able to let people who are wrongfully incarcerated to be able to have a chance to plead their case.”

Total payout for Dean, who served five years and nearly five months, would be about $320,000 and for Taylor, who served 19 years and nearly eight months, would be about $534,000.

Debra Shelden, who served four years and nearly nine months, would be paid $300,000. Each has already received $50,000.

In 1989, a jury convicted Joseph White of the 1985 sexual assault and murder of Wilson. He was the only one of the six defendants who refused to plead guilty to reduced charges to avoid the threat of the electric chair.

Also included in the claims bill is a settlement on a racial discrimination lawsuit involving five black Nebraska State Penitentiary guards who said they were subjected to race-based harassment and retaliation at work from other prison employees.

Their lawsuit was originally dismissed in 2012 by U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf, who said they hadn’t met the demanding standard for a hostile work environment set by case law.

Last year, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back for trial, and it was settled last summer. About $777,000 would be paid out to the claimants — Jaryl Ellis, Michael Hunter, Paul Zeiger, Tiffany Johnson and Aaron Delaney — and their attorneys at Keating O’Gara law firm.

ThisĀ article originally appeared on the May 4th edition of the Lincoln Journal Star’s website. To view it entirely, click here.

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