Published Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:39 pm
World-Herald editorial: Public needs reassurance after botched murder case

One of the most serious actions a government can take is to seek to deprive a person of his liberty, to accuse her of a crime.

That is why the integrity of investigators, prosecutors and judges is paramount to the people’s faith in a fair system of criminal justice.

Trust, once lost, is difficult to repair.

Unfortunately, the actions of people at nearly every level of the investigation into the 2006 murders of Cass County farm couple Wayne and Sharmon Stock damaged the public’s trust.

First, there were the actions of state and local investigators. They exacted a questionable confession they said implicated suspects Matthew Livers and Nicholas Sampson in the slayings.

Second, there were the actions of disgraced Douglas County crime scene investigator David Kofoed, who said he found blood in a vehicle to corroborate the confession. He was later convicted of evidence tampering, and his actions delayed the investigation of evidence from the crime scene that eventually led to the real killers.

Third, there were prosecutors at the state and county levels who, even after jailing the wrong men for months, pressed blame almost solely on Kofoed. There was plenty to go around.

Lastly, through a lawsuit settlement with the exonerated Livers and Sampson, officials cost county and state taxpayers a total of $2.6 million.

Regrettable results all around.

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.

That is what Livers, Sampson and the public deserved. While legal maneuvers won’t allow such truths to be spoken, the public needs to be reassured that the system has been cleansed.

Much of the behind-the-scenes work has taken place, including crime lab changes and tweaked training of law enforcement officers. Voters will get the chance to evaluate others, including state and local prosecutors and the sheriff.

Here’s a simple suggested campaign speech:

We were wrong. We are sorry. We will get things fixed.

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