PLATTSMOUTH - A judge on Tuesday 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 some in the courtroom, where some of Kofoed's fellow investigators sat to hear the decision.
Kofoed, 53, faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine when he's sentenced in May.
While investigating the 2006 shooting deaths of Wayne and Sharmon Stock of Murdock, Kofoed said he found a speck of Wayne Stock's blood in a car linked to Stock's nephew, Matthew Livers, and Livers' cousin, Nicholas Sampson. That was the only physical evidence tying the two to the slayings.
Livers initially confessed to the killings but quickly recanted. His attorney has said the confession was coerced. Prosecutors said Kofoed found the blood evidence after Livers took back his confession.
Sampson and Livers were jailed for several months on murder charges before they were exonerated. Both men have since sued Kofoed and others, alleging civil rights violations.
Kofoed's attorney argued during the trial that a contaminated testing kit likely explained how Kofoed found the DNA evidence.
Investigators eventually 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.
Rehmeier said the Stock investigation had significant similarities to another case Kofoed worked on following the 2003 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 the boy 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, Rehmeier said.
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After Kofoed was charged last year, Henk sought to have his conviction thrown out, arguing Kofoed tampered with evidence in his case, too. But Kofoed has not been charged with tampering with evidence in that case, and a judge struck down Henk's request, ruling it was unreasonable to describe Kofoed's DNA finding in that case as critical. Henk has appealed.
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 Tuesday's verdict is 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 that he regrets not having Kofoed testify during the trial. He said he anticipates Kofoed will 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.
Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning, who choked back tears in September when Kofoed was acquitted in a related federal case, said following Tuesday's verdict that it was a dark day for the department.
Citing a polygraph test administered to Kofoed during an internal affairs investigation, Dunning said he believed his chief investigator did not commit a criminal act.
As a result of the verdict, a hearing is set for later this month for Kofoed, who violated department policy and civil service rules by being convicted of a felony. The hearing will determine whether other punishment is warranted, including suspension, demotion or termination.
Kofoed remains on administrative leave.