One of wrongfully convicted 'Beatrice Six' speaks out against death penalty

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -- “I was threatened with the death penalty and told I’d be the first woman on death row in Nebraska”

The woman who was told she would be the first female on Nebraska’s death row, and served nearly 20 years in prison for a crime she was later proved to have nothing to do with, said Tuesday she is speaking out against the death penalty.

“I spent 19 years, 7 months, and 26 days in prison for a murder I did not commit. After my arrest, I was threatened with the death penalty and told I’d be the first woman on death row in Nebraska nearly every day that I was in the Gage County jail until I agreed to plead guilty,” said JoAnn Taylor.

“I want to share my story so Nebraskans understand that wrongful convictions happen here. I’m proof of that fact. An innocent person can be executed. Using the threat of execution to coerce a confession happens in Nebraska and it is wrong. The threat of the death penalty increases the odds that innocent people will end up in prison,” she said.

“I am speaking out to retain the end of executions in Nebraska because I want to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Taylor said.

Also appearing at Tuesday’s news conference were Lincoln attorneys Jeffry Patterson, Bob Bartle and Herb Friedman, who represented five of the individuals collectively known as the 'Beatrice Six.'

“Our clients were convicted of a murder they did not commit. This past June, a jury heard evidence about what caused our clients to be wrongly convicted, and heard about everything our clients lost when they were sent to prison. This evidence lead the jury to award our clients over $28.1 million dollars,” Patterson said.

“It was compensation to right the wrong of the worst miscarriage of justice in Nebraska history, but even that much money can’t replace the human cost of their wrongful convictions,” he said.

“Imagine your life between the ages of 25 and 45 being ripped away from you. During those years, you start careers, get married, buy a home, have children and watch your kids grow into adults, help your kids go through school, see them graduate high school, go on to college, and even marry and start their own families. All of that was stolen from Joseph White, Tom Winslow and JoAnn Taylor when they were sentenced to no less than 40 years in prison for a crime they did not commit,” Patterson said.

“I also want to share my story because I want Nebraskans to see the human cost of the death penalty. I lost everything when I was convicted of a crime I did not commit. I was taken away from my 14-month old baby in the middle of the night,” Taylor said.

“When I was convicted, I was forced to give my baby son up for adoption. I didn’t see my son again until last December, when we finally met in Omaha -- 26 years after I was taken away from him in the middle of the night,” Taylor said.

“If law enforcement tells you the threat of the death penalty helps to obtain guilty pleas, ask yourself, is what happened with JoAnn the kind of guilty plea we want to have? Threatening suspects with execution may resolve cases, but is it the kind of resolution we can afford? A resolution where 6 innocent people serve 77 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit,” Patterson asked.

“Money cannot possibly make up for the human costs of a wrongful conviction. This is why it is so important for us as a society to do everything possible to avoid putting anyone in prison for a crime they did not commit,” he said.

“I want Nebraskans to know what the human costs are of wrongful convictions. It’s a mother losing her son. I can never get back my son’s first day of school - his first bike - his first prom date – all of that was lost for both of us. The human cost of using the threat of execution to coerce a guilty plea is a grandmother who has never seen her grandchildren. This price is too high to pay. Nebraska is better off without the death penalty,” Taylor said.