In 2006, rural Nebraska couple Wayne and Sharmon Stock were killed with shotgun blasts to the head. Early on, the police honed in on Matt Livers and Nick Sampson, cousins of the slain couple. During a heated interrogation, Cass County Sheriff’s Investigator Earl Schenk told the mentally-handicapped Livers that unless he confessed, Schenk would do everything in his power to be sure Livers was executed, threatening to "do my level best to hang your ass from the highest tree."
Livers eventually confessed, implicating himself and Samspon in a crime they didn’t commit. According to a lawsuit since filed by Livers, investigators then spoon-fed him details about the crime scene, eliciting from him a narrative that fit the one police had in mind.
Cass County investigators then called in David Kofoed, commander of the Crime Scene Investigation unit for Nebraska’s Douglas County. According to the Omaha World-Herald, Kofoed is an active self-promoter, making his CSI unit available to other police agencies in Nebraska around the clock. His unit has contracts with 45 police agencies in Nebraska and Iowa.
The problem is, an initial search of the alleged getaway car conducted by Kofoed’s staff turned up no incriminating biological evidence against Livers or Sampson. Some time later, on his own initiative, Kafoed went back to the alleged getaway car and conducted a second search. His report at the time says he did the second search alone. He has since insisted that he made a mistake in the report, and that one of his subordinates was with him. Miraculously, on this second search, Kofoed found a tiny speck of victim Wayne Stock’s blood on the car’s steering column.
That and Matt Livers’ confession could well have resulted in a death sentence for Livers and Sampson. Except that days after Kofoed found the incriminating speck of blood, two Wisconsin teenagers were arrested for the Stocks’ murders. They had no tie to Livers and Sampson. And their car was crawling with the Stocks’ DNA.
An internal investigation cleared Kofoed and his unit of any wrongdoing. But the FBI is now conducting its own investigation, and according to Kofoed himself, they’re more skeptical. Kofoed told the World-Herald that FBI agents told him his explanations for how one victim’s blood ended up in the ultimately vindicated suspects’ car "didn’t pass the smell test."
Kofoed and his unit are back on the job, and will continue to work new cases while the FBI continues its investigation.
Whether Kofoed is corrupt or he or Cass County police are merely incompetent, the case is a good lesson in skepticism. A confession that include details about the crime scene coupled with the victim’s blood in the suspects’ car sounds like a pretty solid case. That is, until you start to understand how police can coerce false confessions and then, even unintentionally, impart to suspects details about the crime—as well as how easily crime scenes can be either accidentally contaminated, or manipulated by people on the inside eager to secure a conviction.
But for the good fortune of police finding the Wisconsin teens, Sampson and Livers would likely have been convicted, and probably sentenced to death.