There used to be two evidentiary gold standards that assured conviction–eyewitness identification or a confession by the accused. It was even better if you had both. What juror could doubt a traumatized victim who pointed to the defendant and said, "That’s the person who did this to me. I will never forget!" Just as compelling was a copy of the suspect’s confession, initialed on each page, signed at the bottom, admitting to the terrible deeds in his or her own words. After all, no innocent person would confess unless it was true. And no police officer would lie about how the confession was obtained–right?
Then came DNA. It became the new gold standard. Over and over and over, DNA demonstrated, scientifically, objectively, irrefutably, that eyewitnesses are wrong (more than half the time, a chilling statistic), and that innocent people do confess to crimes they did not commit. And that some police officers will lie to get a confession (called T&D, Trickery and Deception, given a seal of approval by the U.S. Supreme Court), and that some police officers will lie, under oath, about getting a confession (called "testilying").
DNA cuts both way, of course. It seals a conviction just as convincingly as it frees the innocent. In Murdoch, Nebraska last year, lacking eyewitnesses, police doubled up–first the "old gold," a confession, and then the "new gold," DNA–in their prosecution of cousins Matt Livers and Nicholas Sampson for the April 17, 2006 murders of their relatives, Wayne and Sharmon Stock. With no real suspects, police brought in Matt Livers, who is mentally retarded, and grilled him for 18 hours. Livers finally confessed, although he had to be spoon-fed enough information to make the confession seem legitimate. And he implicated his cousin, Nicholas Sampson, and said the two of them went to the Stock home together in Sampson’s car.
Livers and Sampson were charged with murder and booked into the local jail. Sampson’s car was hauled off to impound. Between April 19 and April 27, Douglas County crime lab technicians swabbed the car's door handles, pedals, interior handles, buttons, floors and seats. Initially, they did not locate any blood or DNA evidence in the car. Somebody around the cop shop must have begun to worry about Livers’ confession–a confession that even the state’s expert agreed was almost certainly false. Crime lab technicians went back on May 8 and conducted a second search of Sampson’s car, using a wet swab, and found Wayne Stock’s DNA in the only place in the car that they tested. There. They had convictions sealed.
A fly dropped into the ointment two months later, however, when a ring found inside the Stock home led investigators to two Wisconsin teens, Gregory Fenster and Jessica Reid. The ring had been left in the car stolen by Fenster and Reid and used in a multi-state crime spree of farmhouse burglaries and car thefts. DNA evidence from the ring and a marijuana pipe also left at the Stock home belonged to Fenster and Reid. Wayne Stock’s DNA was found on Fenster’s shirt and Reid’s shoe, and Reid’s diary detailed the Stock murders. The two confessed but didn’t mention Sampson or Livers.
At first, police insisted Sampson and Livers must have been in on it with Fenster and Reid, but that kite wouldn’t fly. Charges against Sampson were dropped in October. Livers had to wait until December; charges against him were dismissed the day before a hearing that would have closely examined the circumstances of his confession.
On March 19, 2007, Fenster and Reid were sentenced to life in prison; Fenster got an extra 10 to 20 years for use of a weapon to commit a felony.
Cass County Nathan Cox said he has spoken to investigators from Cass County and the Nebraska State Patrol and does not think the blood got there as a result of accidental contamination on their part. Cox also said he has no information to suggest that one of the investigators engaged in misconduct by placing the blood there."If that were true, somebody would be subject to criminal prosecution," Cox said. "Who knows how this blood got there? Law enforcement is still trying to go through that process."
Indeed, somebody should be subject to criminal prosecution, because the only reasonable explanation for the presence of Wayne Stock’s blood in Nicholas Sampson’s car is that it was planted.
They got caught this time, the cops who badgered a retarded man into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit and implicating his cousin, and the crime lab technicians who planted DNA evidence to complete the frame-up of an innocent man. How many times do they get away with it?