Click here to read the Nebraska Supreme Court's ruling in the Christopher Edwards case.
LINCOLN — The Nebraska Supreme Court won't undertake a broader review of disgraced crime lab manager David Kofoed's conduct after ordering a new hearing in another potentially tainted murder case.
The high court on Friday granted Christopher Edwards, convicted in the slaying of girlfriend Jessica O'Grady in 2006, a hearing on whether the state used fabricated evidence from Kofoed to help obtain a second-degree murder conviction.
In July, the court also granted convicted killer Ivan Henk a hearing in connection with allegations that Kofoed planted blood in that case. Henk was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2003 death of his son, 4-year-old Brendan Gonzalez.
The court's decisions follow Kofoed's evidence tampering conviction in 2010. The former Douglas County CSI chief was found guilty of planting blood evidence while investigating the 2006 slayings of a Murdock couple in an attempt to implicate two men who were later proven to have no connection to the case.
But in its ruling in the Edwards case, the Supreme Court said it could not take the issue any further. Edwards' lawyer had requested that the court form an independent committee to investigate Kofoed and his actions in other criminal investigations.
“Edwards' request ... is beyond the scope of our appellate jurisdiction in deciding his appeal,” the court said.
Edwards, sentenced to 100 years to life, remains in prison. The high court's ruling only granted him a hearing on the evidence used against him.
Clarence Mock, an Oakland, Neb., attorney who won Kofoed's conviction, said he never expected the court to call a commission to investigate Kofoed's conduct in other cases. State law, he said, doesn't establish the Nebraska Supreme Court as an investigative agency.
But Mock said he expects the court to review other complaints against Kofoed on a case-by-case basis. He said it will be up to each convicted defendant and their lawyers to raise the issue.
“It's unlikely any state agency will devote any resources to analyze the questionable Kofoed cases,” Mock said. “How much longer will the transgressions of Mr. Kofoed continue to reverberate? It's a quandary, and it does not have any easy solution.”
Mock said he is aware of two other high-profile murder cases in which Kofoed's conduct is in question.
In 2002, Kofoed testified that he matched a greasy impression of a car's oil pan on the pants of murder victim Mindy Schrieber. Kofoed's discovery secured the convictions of Victor Hernandez and Luis Granados Vargas, who both are serving life sentences.
In 2000, Kofoed gathered key evidence against Richard Cook, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the rape and killing of Wayne State College freshman Amy Stahlecker. Kofoed developed evidence against Cook after he had been established as the prime suspect, Mock said.
As special prosecutor in Kofoed's criminal case, Mock reviewed both the Schrieber and Stahlecker cases.
In 2010, Douglas County CSI technician Darnell Kush testified that she suspected Kofoed had planted fingerprints at crime scenes to make it appear he found evidence that others had missed. Kush worked as a confidential informant to help the FBI as it investigated Kofoed in 2008 and 2009.
“Kofoed liked to make sure the guilty stayed guilty,” Mock said.
Kofoed has maintained his innocence and insisted that he never planted evidence in any case.
Defense attorney Jerry Soucie, who is representing Henk, said he was pleased that the court granted Edwards a new hearing. But Soucie said he was disappointed that the court turned down the request for an investigative committee.
“I think the public would be better served if there was a full investigation as opposed to only on a case-by-case basis,” Soucie said. He said other options still exist for an independent review.
The Legislature could appoint a legislative study group, and the Douglas County Attorney's Office could seek a special prosecutor to convene a grand jury investigation, he said.
“There is a cloud over any prosecution where Kofoed was involved,” Soucie said.
Robert C. Stuart, first assistant U.S. attorney in Omaha, said his office would not be the proper venue to conduct a more extensive investigation. However, Stuart said, federal prosecutors reviewed other federal cases involving Kofoed's evidence handling and found no evidence to suggest impropriety.
In 2009, Kofoed faced federal charges but was acquitted.
“We did what we could do,” Stuart said.
The Nebraska ACLU has called on the Nebraska Attorney General's Office to launch an investigation. The Attorney General's Office on Friday referred questions to the Douglas County Attorney's Office.
Brenda Beadle, chief deputy Douglas County attorney, whose office prosecuted Edwards, emphasized that Friday's ruling only grants Edwards a hearing on evidence in the case.
That kind of post-conviction hearing, Beadle said, is held “all the time.”
“We are confident that the conviction will be upheld,” she said. “There's overwhelming blood evidence in that room.”
Kofoed was a key witness in the Edwards case, testifying that even though the body of Edwards' girlfriend, O'Grady, was never found, blood evidence in Edwards' bedroom, his car and on a sword and garden shears linked the boyfriend to the slaying.
A jury found Edwards guilty of second-degree murder in 2007.
The state has argued that even if Kofoed had planted some blood spots, it was immaterial because other blood evidence — including a blood-soaked mattress and blood splotches throughout Edwards' bedroom — was sufficient to show he was guilty.
But the Supreme Court rejected that view, saying that if the state “knowingly” used false evidence to secure a conviction, that is a violation of a defendant's due process rights, regardless of the other evidence. Edwards, the court ruled, deserves a chance to prove that at a court hearing.
An initial search by two of Kofoed's top crime lab technicians found no blood spots in Edwards' impounded car.
The next morning, however, Kofoed assigned another technician, Bill Kaufhold, to help Kofoed process the trunk of Edwards' car again. That time, Kofoed identified a substantial amount of O'Grady's blood inside the trunk.
A second search of Edwards' bedroom also produced the suspected murder weapon, a souvenir battle sword, in a walk-in closet. The sword was in the crime lab for several days before one of Kofoed's employees, Christine Gabig, tested it and found a tiny speck of O'Grady's DNA.
World-Herald staff writer Todd Cooper contributed to this report.
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