Convicted former Douglas County CSI chief David Kofoed said Ivan Henk is a murderer who should stay in prison for life, not get a chance to argue for his freedom.
“This is just a waste of taxpayers' money,” Kofoed told The World-Herald on Thursday. “It's not about justice. Henk killed his own son. There was no doubt about it.”
In a ruling announced Thursday, the Nebraska Supreme Court granted Henk a hearing on evidence in the case after he alleged that Kofoed had violated his civil rights as the county crime lab investigated the January 2003 death of Henk's son, 4-year-old Brendan Gonzalez.
As crime lab chief, Kofoed collected blood from Brendan's home in Plattsmouth and also allegedly recovered Brendan's blood five months later, in June 2003, from an outdoor trash bin in Bellevue.
Kofoed found the blood days after Henk had confessed to the State Patrol and led police to the trash bin. Henk is serving a life prison term after pleading guilty to killing Brendan.
But now Henk is arguing that without the blood evidence, he never would have pleaded guilty.
In 2010, Kofoed's law enforcement career ended after a Cass County district judge convicted him of tampering with evidence in a separate murder case. The judge cited striking similarities between Kofoed's conduct in the investigation into the 2006 slayings of a Murdock farm couple and the blood Kofoed said he had recovered from the trash bin in Bellevue.
Kofoed, who completed his prison sentence in June, now works at an Omaha tire store near downtown. He said he expects the District Court judge will reject Henk's appeal after the hearing.
“It's just a big game for the lawyers,” Kofoed said. “I never planted evidence in that case. It's crazy. (Henk) confessed and led the detectives to the Dumpster, and he took a plea deal two years later.”
Henk's lawyer, Jerry Soucie, wants to withdraw his client's plea of guilty to first-degree murder. After the evidence hearing, the judge could order a new trial, reject the petition or bar the prosecutors from retrying the case.
Cass County Attorney Nathan Cox said he plans to consult with the Nebraska Attorney General's Office on their next move. Cox said he will work vigorously to ensure that Henk does not win release from custody.
“I am confident when the court hears the evidence that the court will be satisfied that justice was done,” Cox said.
Cox said that even without the blood found in the trash bin, authorities had ample evidence to prove Henk had killed Brendan.
“You take all of that Dumpster (evidence) out,” Cox said, “still, justice was done.”
Former Plattsmouth Police Chief Brian Paulsen said he keeps Brendan's picture on his desk in Yankton, S.D., where Paulsen has been chief since June 2010.
He said he will never forget the months of searches in 2003 for Brendan's remains, canvassing ditches, sandpits and the Sarpy County landfill. The boy's remains were never found.
Paulsen said he was not surprised the court granted Henk a hearing.
“In fairness, he gets another day in court for some of the evidence (used) against him,” Paulsen said.
Paulsen said he never questioned at the time whether Kofoed had fabricated the blood from the trash bin to corroborate Henk's confession to a Nebraska State Patrol investigator. Kofoed's find seemed logical, given that Henk had led the authorities directly to that trash bin as the place he left the body, Paulsen said.
“At that time, nobody really questioned that,” he said. “I still felt Dave had done a good job with that Dumpster. Everything seemed to be on the up and up.”
Two years ago Paulsen was called to testify at Kofoed's criminal trial. After sitting through that trial, he said, he developed second thoughts about the blood evidence Kofoed produced.
Still, Paulsen said, “You need to first remember that Ivan Henk pled guilty. He had self-proclaimed that he killed Brendan. It was Henk who led us directly to that Dumpster.”
Douglas County officials are monitoring the potential fallout from Kofoed's conviction.
The Nebraska Supreme Court is reviewing allegations that Kofoed planted blood evidence in the investigation into the 2006 murder of Jessica O'Grady.
In May, attorney Brian S. Munnelly argued before the Supreme Court that Christopher Edwards' arrest and 2007 conviction were based partially on false and improper physical evidence obtained or manufactured by Kofoed. No body was found in that case as well.
Edwards also has asked for an evidence hearing.
“I would hope we would get our day in court,” Munnelly said. “I think the Supreme Court is looking at the big picture, as well as they should be.”
Munnelly is raising questions about several visible bloodstains found in Edwards' car trunk only one day after two of Kofoed's crime lab technicians spent several hours searching Edwards' impounded car at the county crime lab. The two CSIs found no blood evidence to suggest Edwards' car had been used to dispose of O'Grady's body.
Then, the next morning, Kofoed assigned another CSI to help him process the trunk of Edwards' car. That time Kofoed and his partner observed blood inside the trunk, later identified as O'Grady's blood.
Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning is confident Edwards' conviction won't be overturned.
“I'm sure it's something that still has to play itself out. I don't see any merit,” Dunning said. “I don't see that going anywhere. You take Kofoed out of both cases, and you still got plenty of evidence.”
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Jan. 6, 2003: Brendan Gonzalez, the 4-year-old son of Rebecca Gonzalez, disappears from their Plattsmouth home. Brendan's blood is found in the garage of the home. Police arrest his father, Ivan Henk, then 24, on unrelated charges.
April 29, 2003: Henk yells in a Cass County courtroom that he killed Brendan because he was the Antichrist and had “666” on his forehead.
June 2, 2003: Henk leads police investigators to a trash bin at a Bellevue apartment complex, claiming he had dumped Brendan's body there five months earlier. The trash bin is seized as evidence.
June 5, 2003: Douglas County CSI director David Kofoed corroborates Henk's confession, producing a trace of Brendan's blood allegedly found in the garbage bin.
Aug. 29, 2003: Henk is charged with first-degree murder.
Feb. 1, 2005: Henk pleads guilty to first-degree murder.
March 4, 2005: Henk receives a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
April 17, 2006: Kofoed reports to the scene of the shotgun slayings of Murdock farmers Wayne and Sharmon Stock.
April 22, 2009: Kofoed is accused of tampering with evidence in the Murdock slayings.
May 11, 2009: Henk's lawyer alleges that Kofoed violated the civil rights of Ivan Henk by planting blood evidence against Henk six years earlier.
Oct. 22, 2009: A special judge from Sarpy County rejects Henk's appeal.
March 24, 2010: A Cass County judge convicts Kofoed. The judge finds “significant similarities” proving Kofoed planted blood evidence in the Murdock case and the slaying of Brendan Gonzalez.
July 17, 2012: The Nebraska Supreme Court grants Henk an evidence hearing in District Court.