Reporter John Ferak Publishes ‘Bloody Lies’ 8/1/14 07/31/14 11:24:27 PM
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Omaha’s Bookworm Bookstore has plenty of copies of Bloody Lies on display in anticipation of John Ferak’s visit there Sunday at 1 p.m. – Author’s photo
A CSI Scandal in the Heartlands
Reporter John Ferak Publishes ‘Bloody Lies’
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
Easter Sunday, 2006, Wayne and Sharmon Stock retired for the night at their Cass County farmhouse near Murdock, Neb., after a busy day with family. They would not live to see the dawn.
Person or persons unknown shot the well-known and well-liked couple to death in their bedroom.
By week’s end, two young men were in jail for the shotgun murders, one of them their nephew Matthew Livers, the other his friend Will Sampson.
Matthew, who has an IQ of 70, had confessed – under considerable duress – and implicated Will.
To be sure, the small town law enforcement officers – who were sorely lacking experience in investigating a murder – were under tremendous pressure to solve the horrendous bloody crime and to do it quickly. In their eagerness to produce the killers and soothe the community’s nerves, they latched onto the suspects in hand and concentrated all their efforts in trying to find evidence to back up their suspicions.
The one thing they were lacking was a single piece of evidence that could tie either suspect to the murders. Enter the Douglas County Crime Scene Investigators, called in to assist. It was CSI director David Kofoed to the rescue.
John Ferak’s book, Bloody Lies: A CSI Scandal in the Heartlands, examines the extraordinary path that the investigation took over many months and the eventual downfall of a highly-regarded member of law enforcement.
Ferak was an Omaha World-Herald reporter at the time of the murders and covered the story through to the last related trial in 2010. He is now an investigative team editor for Gannett Wisconsin Media, based at The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis.
He said he had toyed with the idea of writing a book, but the real angle didn’t come into focus until Kofoed was suspected of tampering with evidence. A high-profile law enforcement member suspected of deliberately manufacturing evidence – now that was a story. “It is so rare,” Ferak said. “That changed the dynamics of the case,”
Ferak told The Daily Record he set out to retell the story with as much accuracy and as many relevant details as he could. With the wealth of information he had access to, including his own reporting and the assistance of people such as Omaha attorney Clarence Mock, who served as special prosecutor in Kofoed’s last trial, he ultimately had to decide how to “pare down” the length of the book. There were so many interesting angles: the murders, the initial suspects, the convicted killers, law enforcement heroics and mistakes, and ultimately, law enforcement corruption. “The book ties everything together,” he said.
The local police in Murdock received some assistance from the Nebraska State Patrol, but did not have something that Iowa has – a Department of Criminal Investigation – to help small towns handle complicated cases. Ferak mused that Nebraska might benefit from one as well.
The baffling results of lie detector tests fed officials’ belief that the initial suspects were guilty. “Do the math. At least seven of the 10 key polygraph results were wrong.
“It’s abundantly clear in my book that the polygraph machine was manipulated and misused to achieve the lead investigators’ desired results. Whether these lead investigators at the Nebraska State Patrol and Cass County Sheriff’s Office were deliberately dishonest or just plain incompetent, I don’t know. But it’s clearly one or the other,” Ferak said.
Mock agreed. “Those reported results show why courts do not allow polygraphs as evidence, except in rare cases. They are only as good as those administering them.”
Mock noted that “one problem here was the investigators’ lack of awareness, underscoring the need for deeper and more rigorous training.” For instance, when Livers tried to “walk back” his confession the next day, “proper procedure would have been to ask questions and investigate it back.”
While there was certainly mishandling and perhaps even misrepresented aspects of the case, there were also some heroes.
The sharp eye of Larry Burke, a lieutenant in the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, spotted the most crucial piece of evidence in the Stock’s murder case while reviewing crime scene photos – “an unbelievably fortuitous discovery,” Mock called it. “It shows the role of randomness.”
The tremendous efforts of the investigators to trace that piece of evidence, an engraved ring, to a jeweler in Buffalo, N.Y. helped break the case wide open.
The woman who may be the single-most important but unheralded piece in the puzzle: Mary Martino, the jewelry store manager who combed through hundreds of boxes containing tens of thousands of receipts, looking for an invoice for a $130 ring from Wal-Mart, where and when unknown. After three days, she found what she was looking for. “I thought this was going to be impossible doing this,” she said. “I heard homicide. I heard it was important.” Important? It proved to be the key to solving the case.
“She is the real hero. It reaffirms my belief in the goodness of people. She did it because it was the ‘right thing to do,’” Mock said.
The ring eventually led to the real killers and the original suspects were finally released from custody, six and eight months respectively after they were charged. When the real killers – Gregory Fester and Jessica Reid– were revealed, confessed and were convicted and sentenced, there was one little thing that didn’t add up. Where did that drop of Wayne Stock’s blood found in Sampson’s car, once thought to be the getaway car, come from? Could an overzealous CSI have planted it to bolster the case against Livers and Sampson? Could he have done it before?
After being cleared in federal court of misdemeanor charges, Kofoed was charged with more serious crimes in Cass County. Special prosecutor Clarence Mock went up against Kofoed’s lawyer, Steve Lefler.
Mock had a strong circumstantial case, but most of his witnesses were sympathetic to Kofoed, Ferak stated. This being said, Lefler still had an uphill battle in the bench trial before Cass County District Court Judge Randall E. Rehmeier, the author said.
“The vast majority of law enforcement officers are honest and dedicated,” Mock said. “But the lesson of this book is that it’s not just on them, it’s on everybody. We delegate responsibility, but people have to be vigilant, to make sure law enforcement plays by the rules. The damage Kofoed did is difficult to calculate, especially concerning the credibility of law enforcement.”
Mock said the reason he cooperated with Ferak on the book was that “I knew he would be detailed and accurate, in a case that had many moving parts.”
The local legal community will recognize many of their colleagues in this book, including Douglas County Public Defender (now Douglas County Court Judge) Susan Bazis; Federal Judge Lyle E. Strom; Court-appointed Public Defender Alan Stoler, CSI “CL” Retelsdorf; FBI Agents John Kavanagh, Gina Palokangas, Christine Gabig and Ed Reinhold, Douglas County Prosecutor Don Kleine, Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning; Cass County Public Defender Julie Bear and many, many more.
“One of the saddest parts of this whole story is the fact that it is Matt Livers’ own relatives who finger him from Day 1 as some villainous, blood-thirsty monster,” Ferak said. “The murder victims’ own family is responsible for convincing these inept investigators from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol that Matt must have murdered his uncle and aunt in the middle of the night despite lacking an ounce of any proof. To this day, sadly, many members of Matt’s own family still stubbornly refuse to make peace with him even though they turned his life upside down, put him through hell and nearly railroaded him into prison for the rest of his life.”
To find out more, you are going to have to read the book, now on sale at local bookstores and online at Amazon.com.