Associated Press

Neb. CSI chief convicted of evidence tampering

March 24, 2010

PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. — A judge on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 convicted a top crime scene investigator of evidence tampering, after prosecutors argued that the investigator planted blood from a slaying victim in a car linked to two innocent suspects to bolster the case against them.

Cass County District Judge Randall Rehmeier said he didn't believe Douglas County CSI director David Kofoed's excuse that the victim's blood ended up in the car because of a sloppy mistake. Rehmeier said there was enough evidence to show that Kofoed intentionally planted fake evidence.

The verdict drew gasps from those in the courtroom, mostly Kofoed's fellow investigators and other supporters. Kofoed left the courtroom immediately following the announcement.

Kofoed, 53, faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine at his May sentencing hearing. He remains free on bond.

While investigating the 2006 shooting deaths of Wayne and Sharmon Stock, of Murdock, Kofoed said he found a speck of blood from one of the victims in a car linked to their nephew Matthew Livers and his cousin, Nicholas Sampson. That was the only physical evidence tying Sampson and Livers to the slayings.

Livers initially confessed to the killings but quickly recanted. His attorney has said the confession was coerced. Prosecutors said Kofoed searched the car and reported finding a speck of Wayne Stock's blood after Livers took back his confession.

Kofoed did not file an official report on the blood sample until May 8, 2006. He indicated the evidence was collected that day, but has since admitted it was done 11 days earlier. Kofoed has said distractions led to the dating error.

Prosecutors argued at Kofoed's trial that he intentionally planted the blood evidence to bolster the case against Sampson and Livers, who were jailed for several months on murder charges before they were exonerated.

Kofoed argued that accidental cross-contamination was to blame for his finding.

Investigators linked a stolen ring found at the crime scene to Jessica Reid and Gregory Fester, both of Horicon, Wis. They pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in the Stocks' deaths and are serving life prison sentences.

In explaining his reasoning before announcing his decision, Rehmeier said the Stock investigation had significant similarities to another case Kofoed probed in 2003 following the disappearance and presumed death of a Plattsmouth boy.

The body of 4-year-old Brendan Gonzalez was never found, but his father, Ivan Henk, confessed to murdering his son and dumping his body in a trash bin. Kofoed said he found traces of the boy's blood in the trash bin, corroborating Henk's confession. Henk was convicted and is serving life in prison.

In both cases, law enforcement had honed in on suspects, there was a confession and pressure on investigators to corroborate it, and Kofoed had access to DNA evidence.

After Kofoed was charged last year, Henk sought to have his conviction thrown out on the argument that the chief investigator tampered with evidence in his case. But a judge ruled in October that Henk wasn't due post-conviction relief and said Henk inaccurately described Kofoed's DNA finding as critical in the case. Henk's appeal on the ruling is pending.

Prosecutors were allowed to present evidence from the 2003 case in Kofoed's trial as they sought to prove his actions while investigating the Stocks' slayings were intentional.

Special prosecutor Clarence Mock said he doesn't take pleasure in Tuesday's verdict, but he called it vindication for the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials who conduct their work truthfully and with integrity.

Mock also said it serves as a lesson for law enforcement officials who think they can cheat or manufacture evidence.

"You might be able to get away with it once or maybe twice or maybe more, but ultimately, the truth will out, as it did in this particular case," he said.

Kofoed's attorney, Steve Lefler, said he feels terrible about not opting for a jury trial and he regrets now having Kofoed testify during the trial. The verdict could have gone the other way, but it didn't and now it's time to move forward, said Lefler who anticipates filing an appeal.

"With all due respect to a judge I greatly respect, I think he could have gone through a very detailed list to show why he's not guilty," Lefler said.

Lefler said he doesn't fault the judge's analysis of the case, but said that, "If you think that he's innocent, which you're supposed to do, you could have answered all those points."

A federal jury acquitted Kofoed last year in a related case. In that, he had been charged with falsifying records, mail fraud and depriving Livers and Sampson of their civil rights.

Livers and Sampson have lawsuits pending alleging that Kofoed and other investigators violated their civil rights.

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