Thursday, May 8, 2014

TLC '99 grad and faculty member Maren Chaloupka gets justice for two men wrong-fully jailed

Kofoed ordered to pay $6.5M to 2 men wrongly jailed after '06 slayings

Two Nebraska men who have been awarded a nearly $6.5 million judgment in a civil rights case over evidence-planting could have trouble collecting the money.

A federal judge this week ordered David Kofoed, the disgraced former Douglas County CSI chief, to pay $4.35 million in damages, costs and attorneys fees to Matthew Livers and $2.14 million to Livers’ cousin Nick Sampson. Sampson and Livers were wrongly jailed for several months after the 2006 shotgun murders of Livers’ aunt and uncle, Wayne and Sharmon Stock of Murdock, Neb.

But Kofoed, who was convicted of felony evidence tampering, says that the years of legal wrangling have cleaned him out and that he has no assets to seize or wages to garnishee.

Douglas County taxpayers won’t be on the hook to pay the judgment — Livers and Sampson settled their claims against the county last fall. But the terms of that settlement leave the county’s liability carrier exposed.

Two Wisconsin teenagers, Gregory Fester and Jessica Reid, later pleaded guilty to the murders and were given life sentences.

Kofoed, who processed the evidence at the scene, served prison time for planting blood specks in a supposed getaway car belonging to Sampson’s brother.

Typically, the first step in enforcing such a judgment is an examination to determine the debtor’s finances, including any wages eligible for garnisheeing, said John Lenich, a law professor at the University of Nebraska-­Lincoln.

The rules differ by state, but usually some earnings are protected to ensure that the debtor has enough money to live on, Lenich said. Assuming Kofoed has no assets to seize, it’s unlikely Sampson and Livers would get any money from him.

“Sometimes what you end up with is a very impressive piece of paper saying you’re owed a very impressive amount of money,” Lenich said.

As long as the judgment is periodically renewed, though, Sampson and Livers could lay claim to Kofoed’s future earnings.

“There’s always the chance he could hit the lottery,” Lenich said.

Another possibility: Try to collect from Douglas County’s liability carrier, Travelers Insurance. The county was released from liability, but not the county’s insurers, “to the extent those insurers may be deemed responsible for payment of a judgment against Kofoed,” according to the settlement reached last fall.

In an email, Sampson’s lawyer, Maren Chaloupka, indicated that she might take that route.

“Douglas County went to extraordinary lengths to protect Mr. Kofoed for much of this litigation,” she said. “Surely this was with the knowledge and consent of its liability insurer. Perhaps it is time for the liability insurer to step from the shadows and cover this judgment.”

Livers’ attorney, Locke Bowman, declined to comment on how his client might go after the money.

“We expect to take steps to recover on the judgment,” he said. “I can’t discuss it because we haven’t done it yet.”

A spokesman for Travelers was checking into the matter but did not immediately respond.

Last year, Sampson and Livers settled claims with the other defendants in the lawsuit — the Nebraska State Patrol, Cass County and Douglas County and individual investigators — for $2.6 million. Of that sum, Livers received $1.65 million; Sampson was awarded $965,000.

Monday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon closed the book on the Kofoed claim.

“Sampson suffered a grave injustice — being charged with and incarcerated for a crime based on phony evidence,” Bataillon wrote in awarding the judgment.

Of Livers, Bataillon wrote: “There is evidence that, because of his developmental disability, an injury to his family life, marriage, or reputation affects the plaintiff more negatively than it would a person of average intelligence.”

Livers has an IQ of 63, according to the lawsuit. His attorneys said that he implicated himself and Sampson only after several hours of coercive interrogation and that investigators with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol withheld for months the fact that Livers recanted his confession the next day.

Livers, 35, lives in Texas. Sampson, 29, still lives in the Murdock area.

Kofoed, who maintains his innocence, skipped his trial in the federal lawsuit, saying he couldn’t afford the trip back to Omaha. Reached Tuesday at his home in North Carolina, he said the final judgment doesn’t change much for him: He’s still broke and unemployed.

“What are they going to do?” said Kofoed. “They can’t get blood out of a turnip.”