Thomas Winslow being led from courthouse in Saline County, Nebraska. He was freed today, Friday, October 17, 2008.
Nineteen years ago, in 1985, four people described a horrific murder and rape of a 68 year old woman from Beatice, Nebraska. Three of those witnesses Ada JoAnn Taylor, James L. Dean, and Deb Shelden told investigators that two men Thomas Winslow and Joseph White repeatedly took turns raping the victim while holding her down. Taylor even said she held a pillow over the victim's face during the assault, suffocating her. These "confessions" led to six convictions. White was sentenced to life in prison. Winslow, fearing the death penalty, ultimately admitted to being present at the crime scene, and pled guilty to a reduced charge and was sentenced to 50 years. Taylor was sentenced to 10 to 40 years for aiding and abetting second degree murder. Dean, Gonzalez and Shelden each pled guilty or entered no contest pleas and were sentenced to 10 years. That's four confessions, six convictions, and five guilty pleas -- only White took his case to trial and lost. Case closed, right?
Earlier this summer, Ada Taylor, with a year left on her sentence came forward and recanted her confession and guilty plea, stating: “A lot of it was the fact that the county attorney and several others kept telling me they knew I had suffocated, they knew that I had used a pillow, and I told them that don’t remember any of it.” Taylor said. Why did she lie about her co-defendants. According to Taylor: “I was coerced into taking a plea bargain and coached into testifying to what I was coached to testify to.”
The final chapter in this story has yet to play out. FBI Profilers at the time of the crime believed it was committed by a lone, white male, aged 17-24, who had committed a string of similar and earlier attacks on eldely women in the same neighborhood. Authorities are retracing their steps and hope to be able to find a match to the true perpetrator in the CODIS database. If they do bring charges against the real perpetrator and there is no connection between him and those who have been convicted of the offense, this could be a record setting wrongful conviction. The four false confessions would fall short of the five in the Central Park Jogger case but the five false guilty pleas would set a new mark. Stay tuned.