In 2007 I was promoted to Lieutenant of Investigations at the Beatrice Police Department. I was briefed about the appeal process that was already in motion involving Joseph White. I was thinking “what a waste of the courts time.”
When the DNA results came back I was surprised to say the least.
The Helen Wilson task force was formed, and I was given the opportunity to be in charge of it and handing out assignments. I was thinking “how are we going to re-convict these people?”
We decided the best way to re-investigate this rape/murder was to work it like it had just happened. I began by watching the first interview of Thomas Winslow, one of the convicted murderers. As I watched I was struck by the fact that what he was saying didn’t match the crime scene at all. Then the recording would stop and when it came back on, the story would change. It’s fair to say that I was a little concerned. Then I watched the second interview when Winslow was saying that he wasn’t involved. This was, without a doubt, a more believable interview.
It wasn’t just Winslow, it was all of them except White. Co-defendant JoAnn Taylor described the crime scene as a single story wood house with a porch. That’s a far cry from a large brick apartment building. I remember walking to find Investigator Tina Vath and saying “we have a problem.”
Investigator Vath was going over the crime scene photos and setting up our “war room.” She was thinking the same thing.
Getting back to what I have learned, I have now witnessed how easily one false confession can start a string of events that sent six innocent people to prison. I learned that an admission alone is not in and of itself proof that somebody is guilty of a crime. Probably the most important lesson I learned is to not try to make my theory fit the crime, let the evidence give me the theory and if the confession doesn’t fit the evidence then more than likely it’s a false confession.
The saying on my office wall “What do you think…..What do you know…..What can you prove…..” sums it up best.
If we allow the evidence to be our guide and keep an open mind, the evidence will lead us to the guilty. The Beatrice Police Department had the man responsible in their grasps in 1985 by following those guidelines but unfortunately for everybody involved and as fate would have it, a mistake with the blood serology test started us down this path.
Lt. Mike Oliver of the Beatrice Police Department began his career in law enforcement in 1988 with the Richardson County Sheriff’s Office in far southeastern Nebraska. He joined the Beatrice Police Department in 1991. He became his department’s criminal investigator in 2000 and was promoted to Sergeant in 2003 and lieutenant in 2007.
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