LINCOLN, Neb. — A federal judge has denied Gage County’s appeal of a $28.1 million judgment awarded to six people who were wrongfully convicted in the 1985 rape and killing of a Beatrice woman.

The county filed the request Wednesday to keep from having to pay award until the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals resolves the case. Judge Richard Kopf said Thursday that he found no grounds to grant the stay, the Lincoln Journal Star reported ( ).

“I am especially sensitive to the years and years of imprisonment suffered by (the six), the long litigation history of these cases, and the fact that (Gage County has) had about eight years in this court alone to plan for the eventuality,” Kopf wrote.

Kopf previously denied the county’s requests for a new trial and a reduction in the amount of the award.

“With respect, the time of reckoning has long since passed,” Kopf wrote.

A federal jury awarded the money in July to Joseph White, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow, Kathleen Gonzalez, James Dean and Debra Shelden.

Together, they spent a combined 77 years in prison for the rape and murder of Helen Wilson. DNA testing cleared them in 2008 and linked her killing to another man who had died in prison in 1992.

The six sued Gage County and said a reckless cold-case investigation launched by a sheriff’s deputy, Burt Searcey, had violated their civil rights.

Jennifer Tomka, an attorney for the county, said in a news release that the county does not have the sufficient funds to pay the $28.1 million. She also said it was unclear if the county has any insurance coverage.

The appeals court hasn’t responded to the county’s request for a stay.

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,