|David Kofoed (Photo: Bill Kelly)|
Here we are again.
Another seemingly slam-dunk murder conviction.
Another claim the crime scene investigator planted evidence.
The common denominator is Dave Kofoed.
Kofoed, once the respected leader of the Douglas County Sheriff’s crime lab, landed in jail for planting evidence in a notorious double-homicide investigation in a neighboring county. In the wake of that debacle three other convicted murderers have gone to court claiming their cases may have been tainted by Kofoed as well.
(The case was the subject of the NET documentary “CSI On Trial.” Watch it here.)
Today the Nebraska Supreme Court heard convicted murderer Richard K. Cook request evidence presented at trial by Kofoed get a second look.
Fifteen years ago Amy Stahlecker’s body was found on the banks of the Elkhorn River on the western edge of Douglas County. She’d been shot repeatedly. Her blood was found on the bridge nearby and inside Cook’s truck.
A few days later Mike Horbacher went to police claiming his friend Cook admitted he’d killed the girl. In the following weeks there were complicated, conflicting stories about what led up to the murder. Cook’s version implicated his friend who went to the police.
What the jury believed was this: in the middle of the night Amy Stahlecker got a flat tire driving home to Fremont. Richard Cook had pulled over nearby. He had sex with the victim. There had been a struggle. Cook “unloaded” his 9mm pistol into the woman and dragged the body to the edge of the river.
|Richard Cook (NDCS)|
Five years later the crime scene investigator who handled Cook’s case was also in jail.
A district court judge in Douglas County ruled there wasn’t sufficient reason for Cook to get a hearing to review evidence in the case. The Nebraska Supreme Court has been asked to overturn the ruling. Oral arguments were heard today.
Cook’s attorney, long time Kofoed nemesis Jerry Soucie argued that Cook’s previous attorneys had been ineffective in that they did not present the suspicions that Kofoed could have fabricated some of the evidence in the investigation.
Soucie says because there had been no effort by the Nebraska Attorney General or the Douglas County Attorney to review the body of Kofoed’s work after it was clear he…in Soucie’s words…was a “dirty cop” it was left to the defense attorneys in each individual case to return to court to seek a fresh hearing on the integrity of the former CSI’s work.
Two pieces of evidence raise red flags for Soucie. Blood smears matching Stahlecker were found inside Cook’s truck on the door and the floor mat. Soucie raises questions about how the victim’s blood could have gotten inside the truck when the shooting occurred on the bridge away from the vehicle. In court filings Soucie points out Kofoed was convicted for planting evidence inside the car of two innocent men. In a third murder investigation under scrutiny, Kofoed is accused of similarly planting blood evidence in the convicted killer’s car.
At the Stahlecker crime scene, Kofoed also located a bloody shoe print, size 10 ½, on the outside of Cook's truck. Soucie claims there was never evidence his client owned that type of shoe that matched the print but Kofoed himself had purchased a pair.
Soucie says he is not asking the court to reverse the guilty verdict but only to grant a hearing where the integrity of the evidence can be reviewed.
Arguing for the State of Nebraska, Assistant Attorney General Erin Tageman challenged every aspect of Cook’s demand for a new hearing. She told the justices even if there had been indications Kofoed had fabricated the blood smear and foot print Cook’s attorney “would not be able to show his case was tainted.”
In documents filed by the state noted the nature of the evidence and the methods used by Kofoed “were not similar to his unlawful conduct in the two other investigations.” Tageman added in court that primary responsibility for this homicide were with the Nebraska State Patrol and Kofoed’s role was “very small.”
For the justices there may be a broader issue than whether the questioned evidence would have altered the verdict in Cook’s trial. Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman made reference to “a more global view” where courts should be obliged to re-examine the integrity of evidence brought into court by law enforcement agencies entrusted by the public with that responsibility.
Kofoed has repeatedly denied planting evidence in any of the cases.
It will be several weeks before the Supreme Court will decide if Cook’s request has any merit in the law.
In the next few weeks expect to hear more about two other cases in which Kofoed is accused of planting evidence.
Christopher Edwards. He’s in prison for killing his girlfriend, Jessica O’Grady. Her body has never been found. At his trial in 2006 there was overwhelming evidence Edwards murdered her in his bedroom using a ceremonial sword, however questions arose about blood evidence in the trunk of his car collected by Kofoed. A district court judge in Douglas County is expected to decide soon if a new hearing on the evidence is warranted.
Ivan Henk. After shouting out in the Cass County Courthouse that he had killed his son because he was the antichrist, Henk was sentenced to life in prison for murdering four-year old Brendon Gonzalez in Plattsmouth. During Kofoed’s trial for planting evidence in another case, a judge ruled there was reason to believe Kofoed tampered with evidence in Henk’s investigation as well. The CSI claimed to have found blood in the dumpster months after Henk disposed of the child’s body in the trash. A new evidentiary hearing for Henk is scheduled in February.