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A man and a woman convicted in separate murders who fought the state of Nebraska for years for the right to marry each other will never have that chance after one of them died earlier this year.
The death of 40-year-old Nicole Wetherell in February also ended the court case she and 49-year-old Paul Gillpatrick had waged since 2014 before any precedent could be established.
Gillpatrick and Wetherell got engaged in 2011, but officials consistently denied their request to marry because the corrections department was unwilling to transport either of them to the other’s prison for a wedding ceremony. They were also not allowed to marry via video conference, because the law requires them to be physically in the presence of witnesses and a magistrate or minister.
A U.S. District Judge ruled in the couple’s favor in 2019, but that decision was put on hold while the state appealed.
They had met through a mutual friend in the 1990s, before they were imprisoned. Gillpatrick, who is in a Lincoln prison, was sentenced in 2010 to 55 to 90 years for second-degree murder in the 2009 killing of former Omaha firefighter Robby Robinson. Wetherell was serving a life sentence at a prison in York for first-degree murder for the 1998 stabbing of Scott Catenacci in Bellevue.
Wetherell died Feb. 26 with an undisclosed medical condition, officials said.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case Wednesday before deciding the state's appeal, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
The executive director of the Nebraska American Civil Liberties Union Danielle Conrad said the case is a reminder that “justice delayed is justice denied.” The ACLU represented the couple.
“The bottom line is this: Our clients were simply asking for the ability to marry. Marriage is a fundamental right, including for Nebraskans who are incarcerated,” Conrad said.
She said Gillpatrick and his legal team are evaluating his options.
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