PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. — Douglas County CSI chief David Kofoed's work on other cases likely will be closely studied now that he has been found guilty of tampering with evidence in a murder case.
Cass County District Judge Randall Rehmeier returned the guilty verdict Tuesday. Kofoed chose to be tried before the judge rather than a jury.
Rehmeier found that Kofoed, 53, planted a tiny amount of blood after the 2006 slayings of a Murdock, Neb., farm couple to bolster the case against two men who, it turned out, had been wrongly jailed.
The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The judge will sentence Kofoed in May.
Special prosecutor Clarence Mock said he expects others will analyze Kofoed's work on other cases. He said he doesn't expect that to have an impact, though, unless evidence is found that Kofoed tampered with evidence in those cases.
The real fallout, he said, will come when Douglas County's other CSI technicians testify about their work.
The technicians undermined their credibility when they tried to convince the court that cross-contamination is possible and frequent, even when best practices are used, Mock said.
“Now, those witnesses who took that position will certainly be reminded of their testimony from this trial whenever the subject of cross-contamination comes up in future cases,” Mock said. “I am certain that defense lawyers have already started to order the transcripts.”
Kofoed said he did not consider the verdict a setback or a serious blow. “It is what it is,” he said, repeatedly. “It's not devastating. We just move on.”
An appeal is likely, said defense attorney Steve Lefler.
Wayne and Sharmon Stock were shot to death in April 2006 in their rural Cass County farmhouse.
Cousins Matthew Livers and Nicholas Sampson were jailed for months, even after the arrests of two Wisconsin teens, who confessed to the killings and said they acted alone. They were convicted and are serving life sentences.
A speck of Wayne Stock's blood was found on a piece of Kofoed's filter paper that he said he used to swab a car that authorities believed Sampson and Livers used the night of the slayings. The speck of blood was the only evidence among 420 items that linked the cousins to the Stocks' deaths.
During the judge's 30-minute explanation of his verdict, Lefler sat stone-faced. Kofoed kept his head down and didn't make eye contact with the judge.
Lefler later told reporters that he blamed himself for the verdict. He said he made mistakes by waiving Kofoed's right to a jury trial and by declining to let Kofoed testify in his own defense.
“I am the one who lost this case, not Dave,” Lefler said. “I feel bad for Dave, I feel bad for his family, for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office CSI, for the sheriff and for the taxpayers.”
Mock said the verdict sends a clear message that corruption in Nebraska's criminal justice system will not be tolerated.
“This verdict is a lesson for those who think they can cheat or are dishonest or manufacture evidence. They may get a way with it once or twice, but eventually the truth will come out,” he said.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine noted that Kofoed was convicted of a crime involving forethought and calculation – not a crime of passion.
“It's a crime that I would categorize as one of the worst – tampering with evidence in a case as a law enforcement officer,” Kleine said.
Kleine said his office welcomes scrutiny of any cases handled by Kofoed. However, he said, his office has reviewed other Douglas County cases handled by Kofoed without finding evidence of tampering.
“Certainly we looked at cases to see if there were any problems or issues,” Kleine said. “We haven't found that to be the case in any of them.”
The judge said he found “significant similarities” between Kofoed's work on the Stock slayings and on the earlier Cass County case, the slaying of Brendan Gonzalez. Brendan's father, Ivan Henk, was convicted in that case.
In both cases, Rehmeier said, the accused had confessed, and investigators were working to corroborate the statement. And in both cases, Kofoed found evidence in unusual circumstances. Also in both cases, DNA of the victim had been collected earlier.
Rehmeier rejected three other scenarios Lefler offered for how blood could have gotten into the car.
Rehmeier found no evidence to support Lefler's contention that Livers and Samson actually were involved in the killings.
The judge also found no evidence that cross-contamination — either by another CSI investigator or by way of tainted equipment — explained the blood Kofoed said he found.
After hearing the judge's decision, Lefler said he still was convinced that cross-contamination was the reason Kofoed reported finding blood in the car. “DNA discoveries defy logic,” Lefler said. “I believed in him, and I still believe in his innocence.”
Shortly after the verdict was announced, an FBI agent presented Mock with a pin and medal as a token of gratitude. Special agent Robert Georgi oversees the Omaha branch's public corruption division.
Mock later said he would not have pursued a trial in Cass County if he weren't sure he could win a conviction.
“These were extraordinarily serious accusations of planting evidence in two murder cases,” Mock said.
“Perhaps the lesson in this is, in fact, that this kind of verdict can happen if you are a dishonest law enforcement official.”
A federal jury found Kofoed not guilty last year in a related case where he had faced charges of falsifying records, mail fraud and depriving Livers and Sampson of their civil rights.
Both Livers and Sampson have lawsuits pending alleging that Kofoed and other investigators violated their civil rights.
World-Herald staff writer Todd Cooper contributed to this report.
Sheriff Tim Dunning.