Matthew Livers

Nebraska Officials to Pay $1.65 Million Settlement for Fabricating Evidence and Coercing False Confession

Authorities Still Owe Apology to Matthew Livers

Matthew Livers has settled his civil suit against the Nebraska State Patrol investigators and Cass County, Nebraska, Sheriff’s Deputies for coercing him to confess falsely to the brutal murder of his aunt and uncle and fabricating evidence to make the false charges stick.  Under the settlement, Livers will receive a total of $1.65 million ($1 million will be paid by Cass County; $600,000 by the State of Nebraska; and $50,000 by Douglas County, Nebraska).  The settlement is compensation for Livers’ seven months of pretrial incarceration while the false charges were pending.

Livers also sued David Kofoed, the disgraced former head of the Douglas County Crime Scene Investigation Unit.  A judgment of liability has been entered against Kofoed, and the court will determine the amount of damages Kofoed must pay in addition to the settlement amount.

“By any measure, the conduct of all of the defendants was morally and legally reprehensible,” said Locke Bowman, Executive Director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.  

Cass County and State Patrol investigators extracted the confession from Livers, who is intellectually limited, by threatening to “piss” on him and to “hang [him] from the highest tree.”  Kofoed planted the victim’s blood in a car in order to further frame Livers, and Kofoed was convicted and served 18 months for felony evidence tampering.  When the identities of the true perpetrators were uncovered, the Cass County and State Patrol deputies manipulated and coerced them into concocting a false story that Livers and they had committed the murders together.  Cass County Attorney Nathan Cox dismissed all criminal charges against Livers in December 2006.  The MacArthur Justice Center filed suit for Livers in early 2008.

“We are grateful on behalf of the Livers family that there will be some measure of compensation for Matt and that this long ordeal is now at an end,” said Bowman, who served as lead counsel for Livers in the case.  “Matt Livers is also entitled to an apology from the Nebraska Attorney General for this travesty of justice.  We renew our call to Attorney General Jon Bruning to issue an apology,” Bowman added.  

The Omaha World-Herald has also called for an apology to Livers and to his cousin, Nicholas Sampson, who also was falsely accused of the murders. 

In its editorial (“Public needs reassurance after botched murder case,” Oct. 23, 2013) calling for the apology, The World-Herald wrote: “In legal speak, no one admitted fault in the settlement. But here’s what the authorities owed two men who will never fully reclaim their reputations or the months they spent in jail:  We were wrong. We are sorry. We will get things fixed.”

In addition to obtaining a measure of compensation for the ordeal Livers suffered, the case leaves behind a rare U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit opinion denying defendants summary judgment in a civil rights case, Livers v. Schenck, 700 F.3d 340 (8th Cir. 2012), and a subsequent District Court decision, which is believed to be the only case in the District of Nebraska allowing a claim for damages based on a county’s policies, procedures, or failure to train (a Monell claim) to proceed to trial, Sampson v. Schenck

__F.Supp.2d __, 2013 WL 5308302 (D. Neb. Sept.13, 2013).

Editorial: Public needs reassurance after botched murder case, Omaha World-Herald

Men falsely accused in 2006 murders to get $2.6 million in settlement, Omaha World-Herald

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit opinion remanding Livers and Sampson civil suits for trial in the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, Nov. 8, 2012

U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, Memorandum and Order in Sampson v. Schenck, Sept. 13, 2013

Updated - 10/28/13

Trial Set for Innocent Man Framed in 2006 Nebraska Double Murder Investigation

Matthew Livers is about to get his day in court.

Seven years after being wrongfully accused of a double murder in rural Nebraska and kept locked up in jail for seven months, a federal judge has set Oct. 21 as the opening date of the trial of his 2008 lawsuit seeking monetary damages to compensate him for injuries and punitive damages to punish and deter a repeat of the unconstitutional and illegal tactics in the murder investigation.

Livers will be represented in the Omaha jury trial by Locke Bowman, Director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center; David M. Shapiro, attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center; and Bob Mullin of the Omaha law firm of Lieben, Whitted, Houghton, Slowiaczek & Cavanagh.

The lawsuit argues that Livers experienced great mental anguish as a result of the jailing and fear he could be wrongfully convicted of murder charges carrying a possible death penalty. As a result of the abusive interrogation, wrongful murder charges and time in jail, he "continues to suffer fear, anxiety, alienation from his own family, and other ongoing psychological ill effects," according to the suit. (insert URL link to 2nd amended complaint)

Shortly after the 2006 shotgun slayings of Wayne and Sharmon Stock in their rural Cass County farmhouse, investigating officers zeroed in on Livers and his cousin Nicholas Sampson as prime suspects.

Livers, nephew of the murder victims, was 28 years old at the time of the murder and had no criminal record or exposure to the criminal justice system. Livers had been a special education student, and his IQ test score of 63 placed "his intellectual functioning below 99 percent of the population at large," according to the suit.

Separated from his family and without a lawyer present, Livers was interrogated for 11 hours by investigators from the Cass County Sheriff's Office and Nebraska State Patrol. Livers repeatedly denied any involvement in the crime. But after several hours of increasingly harsh and threatening questioning and being told his refusal to confess would result in the death penalty, Livers believed telling the officers what they wanted to hear would allow him to go home, and he finally implicated himself and Sampson in the murders. The following day, he recanted the confession.

Initially, no evidence linked either Livers or Sampson to the murders. Several weeks into the investigation, lawsuit Defendant David Kofoed, then head of the Douglas County (Neb.) Sheriff's Crime Scene Investigation Unit claimed to have found victim Wayne Stock's blood in a car, linked to Livers and Sampson, that investigators theorized was used in the murders.

At the murder scene, investigators found a marijuana pipe, a ring with an inscription and a flashlight that did not belong to the Stocks and likely had been left behind by the killers. After Livers' confession, a Douglas County forensic investigator, who is not a defendant in the suit, was able to trace the ring to a Wisconsin man, who had left the ring in the glovebox of his truck. His truck had been stolen by Wisconsin residents Gregory Fester and Jessica Reid, who were in a Wisconsin jail in connection with that theft. They later confessed to killing the Stocks, and their confessions were supported by DNA evidence on the ring and pipe and by blood found on their clothing.

According to the suit, officers in Nebraska attempted to cover their tracks by fabricating additional evidence against Livers and Sampson. They attempted to coerce and manipulate Reid, Fester and at least one other witness into implicating Livers and Sampson as co-conspirators in the murders. They continued to claim that the blood evidence supposedly found by Kofoed supported their case against Livers and Sampson.

After more than seven months in jail, the Cass County Attorney dismissed the charge and gave Livers his freedom. Dismissal of the case followed a State expert's finding that psychological coercion was used to obtain the false confession and that Livers was especially vulnerable to heavy-handed tactics.

After the charges were dismissed against Livers and Sampson, David Kofoed was charged with evidence tampering in connection with the bogus finding of blood in the suspect vehicle. Kofoed was convicted and sentenced to prison. He was released after serving 18 months. Kofoed's conviction has been affirmed by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The individual defendants to the suit brought by Livers and another by Sampson sought summary judgments based on claims that their positions as government officials afforded them qualified immunity. In November 2012, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found there was sufficient evidence for the lawsuit to proceed against the Cass County and Nebraska State Patrol defendants.

Nebraska Supreme Court denies new trial for ex-CSI chief, Associated Press

State of Nebraska v. David W. Kofoed, Nebraska Supreme Court ruling, May 4, 2012

Former CSI Kofoed dogged by legal challenges as jailtime ends, KVNO (NET News)

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit opinion remanding Livers and Sampson civil suits for trial in the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, Nov. 8, 2012

Update - 10/02/2013

PBS Show Investigates Nebraska Police's Attempt to Wrongfully Convict Matthew Livers

In 2008, the MacArthur Justice Center and other attorneys filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of Matthew Livers, an innocent man who spent seven months in jail after Nebraska police wrongfully accused him of murdering two relatives, Wayne and Sharmon Stock.

Last month, NET Television, Nebraska's PBS station, aired 'CSI on Trial,' (video) the disturbing story of the police investigation into the murders of the Stocks. MacArthur Justice Center's Locke Bowman, Livers' attorney, is interviewed in the piece.

As the documentary shows, police officers used inappropriate interrogation methods, fabricated evidence and antagonized witnesses to concoct a bogus case against Livers. This compelling documentary uncovers gross misconduct that resulted in locking up innocent people. Livers was eventually released from jail. He currently resides in Texas with his wife. The civil trial will be held in Nebraska some time next year.

Updated - 12/01/2010

Police Fabricated Evidence, Coerced Witnesses to Frame Innocent Man in Murdock Murders, Lawsuit Charges

Attorneys representing Matthew Livers, an innocent man who spent seven months in jail after police wrongfully accused him of murdering Wayne and Sharmon Stock, filed a lawsuit (pdf) yesterday alleging that officers manipulated him into a confession, fabricated and concealed evidence, and coerced witnesses into implicating Livers in the crime.

As a result of the unconstitutional and illegal tactics used in the investigation, Livers, who is mildly retarded, spent months in jail, his reputation was ruined, and many ties with family members were severed. He is seeking monetary compensation for the officers' misconduct.

"Matthew Livers is a victim of police wrongdoing at its most outrageous," said Livers' attorney Locke Bowman, legal director of Northwestern University's Roderick MacArthur Justice Center in Chicago. "This man's life was ruined because unethical police officers were more concerned with finding someone to blame than doing the hard work to find the killers who brutally murdered the Stocks. At every turn of this case, officers disregarded valuable clues and conducted a wholly improper and illegal investigation."

Press release (pdf)

Update - 03/12/2008