- Gage County, Nebraska will soon have to pay a total of $US28 million to six people who were wrongly accused of murdering a local woman in 1985.
- The county has been fighting the civil judgment, but last month, the US Supreme Court rejected its final appeal.
- As a result, residents in the county may soon seen their property taxes increased by hundreds or thousands of dollars to foot the bill, The New York Times reported Monday.
Residents in rural Beatrice, Nebraska will likely see their property taxes raised by hundreds or thousands of dollars as the county struggles to come up with the money to reimburse six people who were falsely convicted of murdering local woman in 1985.
The group, known as the Beatrice Six, were exonerated of the crime a decade ago thanks to DNA evidence, and a task force later identified the real killer.
After being released from prison, the six wrongly accused sued Gage County and the investigators who put them behind bars – winning a total of $US28 million.
But because Gage County doesn’t have the money for the payout, they’re looking to collect the funds by raising property taxes astronomically. The New York Times estimates that residents will see their property tax bills raised by hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Another idea that is being considered is imposing a sales tax to raise the money. State Sen. Myron Dorn proposed that idea in the form of a bill last month. It’s currently being debated in the state legislature.
A collective 77 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit
The controversy dates back to February 1985, when 68-year-old Helen Wilson was found beaten, raped, and suffocated in the Beatrice apartment where she lived alone.
The case went cold, but a former Beatrice police officer and Gage County sheriff’s deputy, Burdette Searcey, started investigating the case, focusing on six troubled outcasts, many of them poor and with substance abuse problems and criminal histories, according to The Times.
“None of us were living aboveboard lives,” one of the Beatrice Six, Kathy Gonzalez, told the Times. “We were all partyers. We were all basically chemically induced idiots. That made us disposable. That made it OK for them to throw us away.”
A state-run inquiry into the investigation would later find that authorities took advantage of the suspects, offering to drop the death penalty or give more lenient sentences if they confessed to the crime. In the end, all but one of them pleaded guilty or no contest to Wilson’s murder.
The only one to fight the accusation was Joseph White, who lost his case when it went to trial. He continued to profess his innocence, and in 2008, his lawyers obtained DNA evidence proving the six had nothing to do with Wilson’s murder. By the time he got out, he had served 18 years in prison.
A state-run task force later identified the real killer as Bruce Allen Smith, who was 22 years old at the time of the crime, but had died in 1992.
Residents are torn on having to foot the bill for the lawsuit
While some Gage County residents told The Times that they believe they have a moral obligation to reimburse the Beatrice Six for the collective 77 years spent in prison, others didn’t understand why they are being saddled with the bill.
Nick Faulder, 25, told The Times he expects to pay an additional $US3,500 in property taxes this year on his family’s 320-acre farm.
“I wasn’t even born,” Faulder said. “I’m unfortunate enough to have to pay for the mistakes of the past leadership.”
Gonzalez told The Times that while she agreed it’s not entirely fair that residents are struck paying for the lawsuit, “it wasn’t fair what they did to us, either.”
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- How ‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett went from victim, to suspect, to cleared of all charges after reporting a hate crime
- 10 innocent people who were sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit
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