Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wed Lock: Two Nebraska Prison Inmates Sue for the Right to Marry

Love finds a way, even in jail. 

However two inmates in Nebraska prisons 50 miles apart can’t get married. Both are convicted murderers. The Department of Correctional Services declined to bring them together for a ceremony.  The determined couple is taking it to court.

In their complaint filed this morning in Lancaster County District Court, Paul Gillpatrick and Niccole Wetherell claim “the right to marry is a fundamental right protected by the United States Constitution that cannot be denied because the partners to the marriage are incarcerated.”  They request the judge find Corrections violated the constitution and require a wedding be accommodated.

The case boils down to who gets the bride to the church.   

The lawsuit claims the couple filled out the necessary paperwork, a “Marriage Intention Form,” but the request and an appeal through the prison grievance procedure were denied.  Wardens at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln and the Correctional Center for Women in York refused “to make arrangements to transport” Gillpatrick or Wetherell to the other prison for a ceremony and “refused to make alternative arrangements” which would permit a wedding to take place.  An alternative would include exchanging vows by video hook-up.

There is a policy for prison weddings in Nebraska.  It does not specifically block matrimony between prisoners.   

Paul Gillpatrick (DCS)
Weddings are allowed “unless  the Warden finds that the marriage presents a threat to security or  order of the institution or to public safety.”  DCS regulations  state corrections employees “will not transport inmates from one institution to another for the marriage ceremony.”  There lies the problem for the engaged couple.

Gillpatrick, 42, and Wetherell, 33, met through a mutual friend in 1998, before they both ended up in jail.  In a statement released by their attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, Gillpatrick is quoted saying “she makes me laugh, she brings smiles to my face every day and I want to marry her.”

In 2009 Gillpatrick, murdered Robby Robinson in Omaha.  It was a messy case involving meth.  He’d killed the man at the request of his sister, Jennifer Gillpatrick.  Both family members were guilty of second-degree murder.
Niccole Wetherell (DCS)
Wetherell went to prison ten years earlier.  In 1999 she and two other teenagers were convicted of participating in the murder of Scott Catenacci in Sarpy County.  Presiding Judge Ronald Reagan said the killing had no motive other than being “the result of idle minds with little or no moral or ethical guidance.”

She's got a life sentence.  He's in for 90 years.

The spokesperson with the Department of Correctional Services, as is standard procedure when lawsuits are filed, declined comment.  (Read the DCS marriage policy here)

Last year DCS also turned down the request of a transgender inmate, Gracy Sedlak, to marry a former prisoner.  A federal court judge rejected the lawsuit that also challenged the state’s ban on same sex marriages.