LINCOLN — A federal magistrate on Wednesday ordered a joint trial for the civil rights lawsuits filed by two cousins who allege that they were the victims of police misconduct when they were arrested in the 2006 slayings of a Murdock, Neb., couple.
Nicholas Sampson and Matthew Livers had filed separate lawsuits, Sampson in 2007 and Livers in 2008, against law enforcement officials in Cass County, Douglas County and the Nebraska State Patrol.
The trial now is set to begin in late October.
Attorneys for Livers and Sampson had opposed government attorneys' request to try their cases at the same time before a single jury. They said they have “proceeded on completely separate tracks” since late 2008, separately interviewing experts and witnesses who could be called to testify. They say they disagree on how to proceed.
U.S. Magistrate Thomas Thalken, however, ruled that both men could be treated fairly and that it would be more cost-effective to hold a joint trial. The two cases are nearly identical, he said.
Sampson and Livers say their arrests and jailing in connection with the deaths of Wayne and Sharmon Stock resulted from fabricated evidence, a coerced confession, conspiracy and the concealment of key information from their defense lawyers.
In 2010, Douglas county crime lab manager David Kofoed was convicted of evidence-tampering after a judge found that he had planted blood evidence in a car to bolster the case against Livers and Sampson.
Sampson and Livers each spent months in the Cass County jail, even after the real killers, two Wisconsin teenagers, were arrested in the case.
Livers' attorney argues that police used intimidation tactics to coerce his client, who suffers from mild mental retardation, into saying he killed the Stocks, who were his aunt and uncle.
Court documents indicate, meanwhile, that Sampson's attorney will argue that Livers' confession, which implicated Sampson, was not worthy of belief. The jury could thus rule in Sampson's favor without finding that Livers' confession had been coerced.
Livers' attorney also argued against consolidation because Livers has agreed to settle his claim against Douglas County, while Sampson has not. The terms of that settlement have yet to be made public. Attorneys have declined to discuss it before the agreement is filed in court.
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