Gage County completes payment of Beatrice Six sentence

BEATRICE, Nebraska (News Channel Nebraska) –

A muted applause preceded what was a historic day for Gage County… the culmination of a tragic case for all involved. In about half the scheduled time, the Gage County Board on Wednesday completed paying a huge federal civil rights judgment to six people or their property … in a wrongful conviction case. The board approved the final requests making payments to the so-called Beatrice Six….approximately $2.09 million in the most recent requests. Chairman of the board of directors Erich Tiemann spoke about the total amount and the time it takes to complete the payments.

“As close as we can get…this will never be one hundred percent correct, with attorney fees and everything…we’ve come up with a grand total of $30,743,000 and loose change. Instead of eight to ten years or six to eight years, this paid off in about four years. June 7th ’19… to March 8th ’23. If you guys said we will be able to do it in four years?… well, I said no.

To pay the sentence owed to six people wrongfully convicted of the murder and rape of a female Beatrice in 1985, the county used a combination of property tax dollars, insurance settlement money, a $4 state aid allocation million and a special half-cent sales tax permitted by state law… to meet payments. Council member Emily Haxby read a letter from Sen. Myron Dorn, who has been working on state solutions to help the county cover the ruling.

“I am so thrilled that everyone involved has reached this final payment. It closes a difficult chapter for the Helen Wilson family, the six people of Beatrice and the people of Gage County.

Gage County Board Approves Final Sentencing Requests Wednesday (News Channel Nebraska)

Tiemann said the county had to overcome a lot of skepticism about the course it took in the case … which included supervisors who no longer sit on the board and legal counsel covering different aspects of the payment. “We stayed the course, we carried on as if we had… good news from the insurance. We ended up raising $5.98 million, which everyone said wasn’t going to happen… there was no cover. We argued that there was. This has come from previous advice to us, even to us… Senator Dorn when he was president here… and this council looks ahead and says we’re going to continue to fight this. We put money into it. It wasn’t always a popular decision, but it was the right one.

The passage of a law that allowed the county to issue a half-cent sales tax to help settle the ruling kicked off a significant chunk of the funding. “There were rules so this didn’t become a sales tax forever, and the council only wanted it if it was specific to this circumstance. This was lifted on January 1, 2023. The sales tax ended up raising $5.857 million. It was in place from January of ’20… to December of 2022….so that was a two year sales tax, that half percent.

While using the sales tax, the county had to be at the upper property tax limit of 50 cents. County Attorney Roger Harris said several people took a lot of criticism of the decisions they made…and often had to take action without much public disclosure…as the matter was controversial. Board member Gary Lytle said it was good for the county to put the matter behind them.

“I’m not sure if we should celebrate or cry right now. It’s definitely a good time to put this behind us. Once we hit the…judging period pay…the team…let’s just say the team…did as much as could be expected.” Lytle said making nearly $6 million in cash for the insurance settlement through the use of two specialty attorneys was “remarkable.” He said the decisions made were in the best interests of county taxpayers.

County Clerk Dawn Hill … who has done extensive background research on boxes of documents … said, “It’s such a great feeling to do.”

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