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The Case of the Beatrice Six

FMSF News Alert - June 22, 2017

Dear Friends,

A 1985 rape and murder of an elderly woman in Beatrice, Nebraska has recently come to national attention.

The June 19, 2017 New Yorker features an article by Rachel Aviv about this case in which six people all became convinced that they had participated in the crime and they were subsequently convicted and served prison sentences. After DNA evidence showed conclusively that they could not have been responsible, several of the six still retain their vivid memories of the crime.

In an NPR interview, journalist Aviv explains her fascination with the case, "I was interested in the way that a false memory is not just implanted but actually shapes someone’s sense of who they are and what they’re capable of and the kind of story they tell themselves about their life." [2]

Ms. Aviv explored the role of the forensic psychologist in the development of false memories of the Beatrice Six. Dr. Wayne Price suggested to at least two of the six that they may have repressed their memories of the crime: "Price was given a nearly occult kind of authority, as if he were the only person who had access to the mysteries of the human mind. It is not uncommon for law-enforcement officials, even judges, to suspend common sense in the presence of a scientific expert, whose superior training lends his personal opinions the weight of truth." [1]

At the time of the 1989 trial, the prosecutor did not want to spend $350 for a DNA lab fees. However, DNA evidence later proved their innocence. The Beatrice Six were exonerated in 2009 and they later filed a lawsuit against the Gage County for the many poorly managed aspects of their cases. The result of that suit was that in 2016 a federal jury ordered the county, whose total annual tax revenue is only about $8 million, to pay approximately $30 million dollars to the plaintiffs for civil rights claims.

Gage County then appealed that decision. The result of that federal appeal should be known soon.

To learn more about this disturbing case:

[1] Rachel Aviv. (June 19, 2017). Remembering the murder you didn’t commit. The New Yorker.

[2] (June 15, 2017). After DNA exoneration, the Beatrice Six share false memories of murder. Transcript of All Things Considered on NPR. (Interview with Rachel Aviv).

[3] Joe Duggan. ( July 8, 2016). Beatrice Six win millions in civil rights claims, but ‘no amount of money’ will replace years lost, one family says. Omaha World-Herald.

[4] Doug Kennedy (April 27, 2017). Oral arguments in Beatrice Six appeal, not yet scheduled. Channel 21; KWBE .

J. Bean and Pam