Former CSI Kofoed dogged by legal challenges as jailtime ends
May 30th, 2012
Lincoln, NE – The crime scene investigator with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office who went to jail for falsifying blood evidence in a murder case ends his sentence this week and becomes a free man. David Kofoed spent a year and a half in jail after a Cass County, Neb. District Court judge found him guilty of felony evidence tampering in 2010.
Two men who had nothing to do with that murder case – a 2008 double homicide – were kept in jail for weeks, in part based on Kofoed’s manufactured evidence.
As Kofoed ends his punishment, legal challenges are in the courts from two other convicted murders requesting new hearings to review the reliability of evidence Kofoed introduced in their cases.
In an interview with NET News, Kofoed again forcefully defended himself from the charges that landed him in jail and, as well as the new accusations.
“I didn’t plant evidence in any case I have ever done,” Kofoed said.
Kofoed spoke with NET News four days after the Nebraska Supreme Court issued its 35-page ruling upholding the Cass County District Court’s decision not to give him a new trial.
Writing for the majority, Justice William Connolly wrote: “Kofoed’s deceit was amply demonstrated by the false statements that he made in his reports and the inconsistent statements that he made to investigators.”
Connolly added later: “(Kofoed) was tangled in his own web of deceit.”
To date, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and prosecutors in Douglas and Cass counties have not pushed for any independent review of other major cases in which Kofoed’s actions are being called into question.
Three of Kofoed’s homicide cases are in differing stages of review in the courts. Here’s a summary of the cases and what is at stake in the wake of Kofoed’s conviction.
Cass County, Neb.: The murder of Wayne and Sharmon Stock
The faulty evidence in this double homicide in Murdock, Neb. landed Kofoed in prison. The Stocks were murdered in their bedroom on Easter night, 2006.
Investigators from the Cass County Sheriff’s Department and the Nebraska State Patrol succeeded in getting Matt Livers, the Stocks’ nephew, to confess to the crime and implicate another man, Nick Sampson. Before the confession was discovered to be coerced and false, Kofoed claimed he found a small trace of blood in a vehicle owned by Sampson’s brother. Suspicions about the source of that blood peaked when other evidence led police to the real killers, a pair of teenagers from Wisconsin.
When the Nebraska Supreme Court denied Kofoed’s request for a new trial, it did not end legal action related to the case.
Livers and Sampson filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming their civil rights were denied when they were jailed without reliable evidence.
Along with Kofoed, the case seeks damages from his former employer, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department, and the Nebraska State Patrol.
Both the organizations and individual officers named as defendants have asked to be dropped from the suit. This spring, the Eighth District Federal Appeals Court convened in Minneapolis to hear arguments. The three-judge panel will decide if any – or all of them – should be included in the lawsuit, and if it should be allowed to proceed.
In his argument before the court, the attorney for Livers, Locke Bowman of MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University in Chicago, argued that no one in the case properly shared evidence that could have cleared his client, known in law enforcement as exculpatory evidence.
“This record reflects appalling, massive ignorance on the part of every employee of Douglas County CSI with respect to the obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence,” Bowman said. “Kofoed obviously didn’t get it.”
In an interview after the hearing, Bowman said his client wants “his day in court so he can show the world that he was railroaded” and he hopes for some level of compensation.
Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning, also named in the lawsuit, told NET News last fall that he had “expected more challenges than I have seen.”
Dunning initially stood by Kofoed, but by the time the guilty verdict was declared, the sheriff came to believe he and the rest of the CSI unit had been deceived.
“He’s gone. He’s not coming back. We’re not doing business like that ever again,” Dunning said. “Every piece of what was here that was from him is completely gone.”
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office CSI unit has new leadership, completely revised evidence handling policies and a new building A ruling from the Federal Court of Appeals on whether the civil case should proceed is expected sometime this summer.
Cass County, Neb.: The murder of Brendan Gonzalez
In January of 2003, 4-year-old Brendan Gonzalez disappeared. He had last been seen with his father, Ivan Henk, at their home in Plattsmouth, Neb. Henk was an early suspect, but the case did not advance until several months later when he led police to a trash bin outside a suburban apartment complex where he said he had dumped the child’s body. The Douglas County CSI unit was asked to help investigate. Kofoed collected samples from the bottom of the trash bin that he claimed had traces of the child’s blood.
Gonzalez’s body was never found. The bin was emptied into the Sarpy County landfill. Police and volunteers gave up their search after two months of combing through the dump.
Henk pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for prosecutors agreeing not to pursue the death penalty.
The DNA evidence was not challenged at Henk’s trial, but when allegations against Kofoed in the Murdock murder surfaced, the special prosecutor had the evidence reexamined by an independent laboratory. As summarized in the Nebraska Supreme Court’s ruling in the Kofoed case, the experts “testified that it was highly unlikely that investigators would have found non-degraded DNA in the dumpster after six months of exposure to the elements and trash.” The strength of the evidence was strong enough for the judge in Kofoed’s case to determine that it indicated a pattern of tampering with evidence. The Nebraska Supreme Court agreed that assumption was valid.
Henk’s attorney believes suspicions about the evidence are reason enough to give his client a new trial, but the state Attorney General’s Office argued Henk’s confession was reason enough to sustain the original sentence issued in Cass County District Court. The Nebraska Supreme Court has yet to rule on Henk’s request.
Douglas County, Neb.: The murder of Jessica O’Grady
Earlier this month, the Nebraska Supreme Court heard about suspicions that Kofoed planted blood evidence in a third homicide case. Christopher Edwards was convicted of using a sword to kill and dismember his girlfriend, Jessica O’Grady, in 2006. Her blood covered a mattress and the walls in Edwards’ bedroom. No body was ever found.
Searching a relative’s home where Edwards lived, Kofoed claimed he located a minute spot of blood in Edwards’ car truck. It was a clue that would have hinted at how the body was removed.
(Read one of the early reports filed in the Edwards case by the Douglas County crime scene investigators)
After losing an earlier appeal, Edwards returned to the Nebraska Supreme Court this year, arguing the ex-CSI’s conduct provides good reason to review the evidence in a special court hearing.
Before the court, Edwards’ attorney, Bryan Munnelly, said, “Granting a full and fair evidentiary hearing in this case may or may not resolve the question of guilt or innocence, but it most certainly will give us confidence that the defendants in the Douglas County Court system received due process and due opportunity to prove their innocence.”
During questioning, some state Supreme Court justices pointed out there is substantial other evidence linking Edwards to the murder.
Munnelly claimed he would prove that the evidence was fabricated, which denied Edwards due process. He conceded that they would not challenge evidence regarding the origin of the victim’s blood that soaked a mattress, nor the bloodstained walls that had been hastily painted over. The evidence of the murder is not in dispute; only the evidence Kofoed provided that seemed to illustrate how the body was removed from the home.
Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Kleine argued against scheduling a new evidentiary hearing. She told the court: “Even if Kofoed had planted the blood evidence on those three particular items, they are frankly a very minor part of the evidence.”
The Supreme Court will decide later this year whether Edwards deserves a hearing on the evidence.
Kofoed recently repeated denials that he planted evidence in any of the cases.
“I’ve never done it,” he told NET News. “People believe I am guilty. I’ve been found guilty. It’s been reaffirmed by the state Supreme Court. So anything I say (to) people, everybody’s going to say, Oh yeah, whatever.’ So I am going to move on with my life and I’m not going to change that.”
When his sentence ends on May 31, Kofoed has plans to move to California and “just disappear,” he said. “I’m too high-profile.”