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A federal judge Friday sided with two Nebraska inmates who sued for their right to marry while incarcerated.

After both filed marriage-intention forms while incarcerated in state prisons in 2012, Paul Gillpatrick and Niccole Wetherell have spent the past seven years suing for their right to marry after their requests were denied by their prisons' respective wardens and Scott Frakes, the director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.

The major dispute between the parties had to do with department officials' refusal to facilitate a wedding ceremony over Skype using prison computers and the internet. The officials argued Nebraska law would require Gillpatrick and Wetherell to "be in the presence of a magistrate or minister and the attending witnesses." They said that meant a physical presence, and that a Skype call would not fulfill that.

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U.S. District Judge Robert Rossiter concluded the corrections officials' denial of an e-wedding ceremony was "unreasonable," as officials could not identify any material costs or threats to their facilities that might result from the ceremony. 

The case also tackled a 2016 Department of Corrections policy that forbade inmate marriages unless special circumstances created an exception. The judge ruled the policy invalid, citing the United States Supreme Court decision in Turner v. Safley, which involved a nearly identical regulation at a Missouri prison.

Gillpatrick, who is at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, is serving a 55-to-90-year sentence for the 2009 killing of Robby Robinson, a former Omaha firefighter. Wetherell, who is at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, was one of three people sentenced to life in prison for the 1998 stabbing death of Scott Catenacci in Bellevue.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or eclopton@journalstar.com.

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