LINCOLN — The cost of a murder investigation gone wrong: $2.6 million.
Matthew Livers and Nicholas Sampson have made the State of Nebraska and two counties pay for falsely accusing them of a 2006 double murder in rural Murdock. The case involved a rare combination of a coerced false confession and planted DNA evidence.
Livers agreed to a $1.65 million settlement; Sampson will receive $965,000.
The men were charged with the April 17, 2006, shotgun murders of Wayne and Sharmon Stock, a well-respected couple who farmed near Murdock. Two Wisconsin teenagers with no connection to the accused men later pleaded guilty to the slayings and are serving life in prison.
The men filed federal civil rights claims against sheriff's investigators for Cass and Douglas Counties along with investigators for the Nebraska State Patrol.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning on Monday pinned the blame on David Kofoed, the former head of the Douglas County CSI unit who was convicted of evidence tampering in the case.
“We have a dirty cop, and that poisons the entire case,” Bruning said. “In my mind, this is all on Kofoed.”
Livers, who has a borderline intellectual disability, implicated himself and Sampson after more than 11 hours of questioning by state and Cass County investigators. He later said he lied to end the interrogation.
Bruning insisted Monday that the two State Patrol officers who helped get the confession acted “honorably.”
“It frustrates me greatly that their efforts have been brought under suspicion because of David Kofoed's malfeasance,” Bruning said.
Attorneys for Livers and Sampson strongly disagreed with Bruning's description of the patrol investigators.
Video of Livers' interrogation shows that they threatened him with the death penalty and fed him details from the crime scene so he could make a confession, said Locke Bowman, a Chicago attorney who represents Livers. And they withheld for months the fact that Livers recanted the next day.
“David Kofoed's misconduct, which was deeply egregious, was just piling on after the Nebraska State Patrol and Cass County Sheriff's Department started the snowball rolling downhill,” Bowman said.
Maren Chaloupka, a Scottsbluff, Neb., attorney who represented Sampson, pointed out that Bruning and attorneys for Cass County tried multiple times to have the investigators dismissed as defendants. The federal judge in Nebraska, as well as the appellate court in Minnesota, rejected those attempts.
“The vast majority of law enforcement officers are exactly what we want them to be — our heroes and protectors,” she said. “Unfortunately, there were officers in this case who represented the very worst nightmare of an innocent man.”
Before being cleared of the charges, Livers spent about eight months in jail and Sampson was jailed about six months as they awaited trials.
Under the terms of the settlement, Cass County will pay the men about $1.5 million, the state will pay $975,000 and Douglas County will pay $125,000. The settlement was reached late Friday, ahead of a federal court trial that was to begin Monday in Omaha.
Livers, 35, is a long-distance truck driver living in Texas. Sampson, 29, still lives in the Murdock area.
The defendants admitted to no wrongdoing or liability, said Kim Sturzenegger, a Lincoln attorney who represented Cass County. She otherwise declined to comment.
Messages left Monday for Cass County Attorney Nathan Cox were not returned. Cass County Sheriff William Brueggemann referred calls to Sturzenegger.
Livers and Sampson have a pending claim against Kofoed. A court hearing scheduled for today is expected to address that lawsuit.
The settlements have nearly brought to an end a case that shocked a small community with the loss of two respected residents and later the entire state with the explosive allegations of police misconduct.
The Stocks were killed by shotgun blasts after they had gone to bed. The investigation quickly focused on Livers, the couple's nephew, and Sampson, who is Livers' cousin through the other side of his family.
After the investigators obtained the confession, they asked Kofoed to search a car they said was used for the getaway. Kofoed said he found a speck of a victim's blood in the car.
Later, after the case against Livers and Sampson fell apart, Kofoed said it was a case of mistaken cross-contamination. A judge, however, found him guilty in 2010 of evidence tampering, a felony, and Kofoed served two years in prison.
A ring found at the crime scene eventually led other investigators to Jessica Reid and Gregory Fester II of Horicon, Wis. They pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for shooting the Stocks during a random burglary. Efforts to link Sampson and Livers to the Wisconsin couple failed.
Reached Monday by phone at his home in Charlotte, N.C., Kofoed maintained his innocence.
“I took the fall for it. Bruning can get up there and mouth all he wants about it and blame me, but I didn't do anything,” said Kofoed, 57, who said he is unemployed.
William Lambert and Charles O'Callaghan, the two state troopers involved in the case, remain with the agency as criminal investigators, said Deb Collins, the patrol's spokeswoman.
Sheriff's detective Earl Schenck and deputy Sandra Weyers are no longer with the Cass County department.
Had the defendants lost the lawsuits at trial, the cost to state and county taxpayers could have been significantly higher than the settlement amounts, Bruning said. In civil rights claims, a judge also can order the losing party to pay the winner's attorney fees.
World-Herald staff writer Cody Winchester contributed to this report.