Friday, June 20, 2008

Shit Blood Happens

Several years ago a rural Nebraska couple were brutally killed by shotgun blasts to the head. The investigation quickly focused on relatives, specifically cousins Matt Livers and Nick Sampson. Officials quickly theorized that the Sampson car was the getaway vehicle, but an initial search found no DNA evidence. That's when CSI commander David Kofoed was called in for one more search. He "found" a speck of blood matching one the murder victim's DNA on the vehicle's steering column.

Case closed, right? How is the defense lawyer going to demonstrate that the DNA isn't the smoking gun, in other words?

The only problem for Commander Kofoed was that shortly thereafter, two Wisconsin teens were arrested for the murder and a large amount of DNA evidence was once again found in their vehicle.


As the Omaha World Herald stated:

The commander of Douglas County's crime scene investigations has been put on paid suspension as authorities try to determine how he found a microscopic amount of a murder victim's blood in a car that had no connection to the 2006 double homicide.

Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning said Tuesday that CSI commander David Kofoed's absence since June 10 stems from allegations made in separate lawsuits brought by two Nebraska cousins formerly charged in the Cass County case.

The suspension is part of an internal investigation that should wrap up next month.

Lawyers for cousins Matt Livers and Nick Sampson have filed separate civil rights lawsuits over the case.

The Livers suit claims that unknown Nebraska investigators planted blood evidence inside a car owned by Sampson's older brother.

Livers and Sampson were arrested eight days after the April 17, 2006, shotgun slayings of Wayne and Sharmon Stock of Murdock, Neb. Both men spent several months in jail before prosecutors dropped the charges when DNA evidence ultimately linked the crimes to two Wisconsin teenagers.

"We need to determine how the blood in the car got in there, intentionally or accidentally," Dunning said. "Right now, I don't have an answer."

The Livers lawsuit claims the evidence was planted when the case against the cousins began to unravel.

Dunning said he has no evidence indicating misconduct by Kofoed or anyone in his office. Kofoed has a reputation for being a thorough, top-notch professional, Dunning said.

However, Dunning said the lawsuits raise serious questions about the crime lab and its ability to handle evidence.

Like the Downing Street Memo said, "the intelligence was fixed around the policy." I've often said that investigations conducted by bureaucratic agencies often flow, like water, downhill toward the easiest source: As the World Herald article stated:

Almost immediately, Cass County Sheriff's investigators and the Nebraska State Patrol theorized that a disgruntled family member killed the wealthy couple and that the Sampson car was the getaway vehicle.

In the end, authorities found no evidence linking the crimes to Sampson and Livers, except for the mysterious trace of Wayne Stock's blood found in the impounded car.

But amazingly, after a large amount of DNA was found in the Wisconsin teens' car, CSI commander Kofoed claimed that the trace amount of blood he found in the relatives' car cut in favor of their innocence.

Can you even imagine him arguing this at trial if the Wisconsin teens had not been implicated?

Kofoed could not be reached for comment Tuesday but has said previously that the microscopic amount of blood found in the Sampson car argued against the cousins being involved. Had they played a role in the slayings, he said, there would have been much more physical evidence in the car.

In past interviews, Kofoed said he searched Sampson's car a second time on his own initiative because the other outside law enforcement officials insisted it was the getaway vehicle, even though his lab's initial forensics probe indicated otherwise.

Kofoed denied planting evidence. He said he suspects that the blood particle ended there accidentally when an officer processed the crime scene and then the car during the early stages of the investigation.

Dunning said he hopes to interview all Douglas County crime lab, Nebraska State Patrol and Cass County Sheriff's Office personnel who worked on the case.

"We may never have an answer," he said. "We need to know who all was in that car because it was certainly more than just us at the crime scene."

And you know the investigation will be thorough, especially after that last CYA comment about "other people and agencies being there."

It's amazing how these investigations are characterized as rock solid, coordinated and backed up by indisputable science until the blood hits the fan. Then it's "it wasn't us, man!"

In a follow up article yesterday, the World Herald outlines Kofoed's defense and the likely outcome of the "investigation."

[Kofoed's attorney] said he expects Dunning's investigation to find that a police officer at the farmhouse inadvertently transferred blood from his clothes to the impounded vehicle.

"I don't think there has to be criminal intent by anyone in this case," [the attorney] said.

It's also probable, he said, that the victim's blood got into the car before the vehicle arrived at the crime lab's impound lot in west Omaha and was missed by the first lab technician's probe.

"One thing that most police departments don't want people to know is that DNA is very susceptible to contamination," he said.

"Generally speaking, it's very easy for police officers to contaminate a crime scene. I think it's more likely that contamination happened and that the first person who inspected the car probably just didn't do a thorough job. It is impossible in any profession to do a 100 percent great job all of the time."

That's true, but highly ironic when coming from the head of CSI after two innocent men spent months in prison due to this drop of blood.

How do you think it feels to be in prison, based on one of these drops of blood, and hear that the guy who found it now, with his own career on the line, says it could have easily gotten there by accident?

As Bob Dylan once wrote:

Rubin Carter was falsely tried.
The crime was murder "one," guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride.
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.


Glen Graham said...

This is a great post. Good poetry - lyrics also. Most honoest people don't think in terms of absolute evil --- how easy it would be for the police to plant evidence to stregthen a weak case or for a disgruntled, vindictive person to do this.

Yours in the Defense of Fellow Human Beings,

Glen R. Graham, Attorney at Law, Tulsa, Oklahoma,

Glen Graham said...

This is a great post. Good poetry - lyrics also. Most honest people don't think in terms of absolute evil --- how easy it would be for the police to plant evidence to stregthen a weak case or for a disgruntled, vindictive person to do this.

Yours in the Defense of Fellow Human Beings,

Glen R. Graham, Attorney at Law, Tulsa, Oklahoma,

Anonymous said...

Still following this trial?

Interesting to cross-reference what is being exposed during trial now, the "microscopic amount of a murder victim's blood" - the DNA analyst said it was so plentiful it had to be diluted before testing...

This guy very likely planted evidence that would have sent people to prison for the remainder of their lives.

Must be nice to be an officer of the law and not get convicted for this! And be on paid leave!

I guess people are too stupid to realize the reverse logic when DNA is found, but, oh, wait, how did that get in a vehicle that was not involved in the crime?

Because the CSI chief planted it...duh