WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from a Nebraska county that has to pay a $28 million court judgment to six people wrongfully convicted for a 1985 slaying.
The justices turned away Gage county’s last-ditch effort to avoid the hefty judgment. The county has been forced to raise property taxes and seek a sales tax increase to help pay the judgment. Gage County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann says the outcome at the nation’s highest court was not surprising.
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Gage County is awaiting decisions on whether or not insurance coverage existed that could help pay part of the judgment.
The federal appeals court in St. Louis had previously upheld the jury verdict against Gage county, saying it was justified because of egregious law enforcement conduct.
The six people were wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of Helen Wilson. They spent more than 75 years combined in prison until DNA evidence cleared them in 2008. Wilson’s death has since been linked to a former Beatrice, Nebraska, resident who died in 1992.
The lawsuit alleged that law enforcement officials recklessly strove to close the case despite contradictory evidence and coerced false confessions.
Three bills are under consideration in the Nebraska Legislature that proposed use of sales tax money to pay federal judgments, allow local governments to submit a claim to the state to pay a federal judgment, or access a loan from the state at low interest.
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After the first trial ended in a mistrial in 2015, the 8th Circuit ruled that there was substantial evidence to support allegations that Gage County officials conspired to convict the six people. That included evidence that investigators conducted unreported interrogations, ignored verifiable alibis and suggested that three of the six had repressed memories of the crime.
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