The remote farming community of Murdock, Nebraska, seemed to be the least likely setting for one of the heartland’s most ruthless and bloody double murders in decades. In fact, the little town had gone more than a century without a single homicide. But on the night of Easter 2006, Wayne and Sharmon Stock were brutally murdered in their home. The murders garnered sensational frontpage headlines and drew immediate statewide attention. Practically everybody around Murdock was filled with fear, panic and outrage. Who killed Wayne and Sharmon Stock? What was the motive? The Stocks were the essence of Nebraska’s all-American farm family, self-made, God-fearing, and of high moral character. Barely a week into this double murder investigation, two arrests brought a sense of relief to the victims’ family and to local residents. The case appeared to fall neatly into place when a tiny speck of murder victim Wayne Stock’s blood appeared in the alleged getaway car.
Then, an obscure clue left at the crime scene took the investigation down a totally different path, stretching into Iowa, Louisiana, New York, Texas and Wisconsin. By the time this investigation was over, the charges against the original suspects were dismissed and two new individuals emerged from the shadows.
Author John Ferak covered the Stock murders from the very beginning, including all of the trial proceedings. When the criminal prosecution finally ended in 2007, he remained puzzled by one nagging question: Why was the blood of victim Wayne Stock in a car that was ultimately proven to have no connection to the murders?
Over the next few years, the astonishing bloody lies were revealed, culminating in a law enforcement scandal that turned the case on its head and destroyed the career of Nebraska’s celebrated CSI director, David Kofoed. Ferek’s true crime novel, Bloody Lies: A CSI Scandal in the Heartland, is now available and the author shared the following excerpt with The Reader.
CHAPTER 13: TIPSTER
On the first Friday in October, Cass County Attorney Nathan Cox calmly walked into the district courtroom across the hallway to dismiss both counts of first-degree murder against Nick Sampson. Before taking questions from pesky and inquisitive news reporters, Cox read from a prepared statement. He began by complimenting the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol for working tirelessly and doing a tremendous job in the investigation. “Recently, Judge Rehmeier ruled that law enforcement had properly arrested Nick Sampson,” Cox said. “However, the standard that the prosecution must meet at trial is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. After considering the evidence discovered to date in the Stock murder cases, I have come to the conclusion that the Nicholas Sampson case, at this point, does not meet that standard. This decision was not made lightly. Significant evidence used to establish probable cause is not available currently for trial as the rules of evidence and the Constitutional rights of the accused do not allow us to present certain evidence against Nick Sampson at trial.”
Of course, Cox was referring to Matt Livers’s incriminating confession implicating Nick as his lone accomplice. By law, prosecutors could not force Livers to testify against his codefendant, since Livers had not gone to trial himself. “I have decided that the only prudent choice at this time is to dismiss the charges against Nicholas Sampson without prejudice,” Cox continued.
Cox reassured the victims’ family that his office and law enforcement would continue to exert every effort to hold the perpetrators of the senseless murders responsible. “In conclusion, the cases against the three other defendants currently in custody for these homicides are proceeding to trial. I am confident in the state’s cases and their successful prosecution.”
Livers’ jury trial remained on schedule for January 2007. Later that morning, Nick Sampson emerged as a free man for the first time in six months. He walked out of the adjoining Cass County Law Enforcement Center in blue jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt. The carefree Murdock native jumped into the arms of his crying fiancée, Lori Muskat. Others present for the emotional reunion included his mother, Debra, his sister, Crystal, his brother Will, and about a dozen friends who had faithfully stood in his corner from the beginning. On the lawn of the historic Cass County Courthouse, Nick’s outspoken public defender Jerry Soucie addressed the news media for what seemed like a historic occasion in its own right. “On April 26, 2006, state and local law enforcement officials stood outside the Cass County Courthouse and announced that the murders of Wayne and Sharmon Stock had been solved with the arrest of Nick Sampson and Matt Livers,” Soucie barked in his familiar forceful tone.
“Five months and ten days later the charges against Nick Sampson have now been dismissed. The truth is law enforcement was wrong. The real investigation had only begun. I know I speak for Nick, his family, friends and supporters in expressing our gratitude that the county attorney has done the right thing.”
Soucie emphasized his client was totally innocent of murdering the Stocks. Nick was arrested before investigators performed any forensics testing upon Nick’s shotgun, clothes, the engraved ring, bloody flashlight, marijuana pipe, shoeprints and tire impressions found at the farmhouse. All of the subsequent forensic testing excluded Nick, included someone else or could not identify anyone, Soucie explained. Nick also had an alibi and those two witnesses were interviewed by law enforcement. “I want to emphasize that these charges were not dismissed based on some legal technicality or evidentiary ruling by the court that made further prosecution impossible,” Soucie clarified. “No evidence in this case has been suppressed. The charges have been dismissed because there is simply no evidence upon which this case could be tried. Nick Sampson did not commit this crime. He did not aid or assist anyone else to commit this crime, and he has absolutely no direct or indirect knowledge regarding who killed Wayne and Sharmon Stock or why.”
Soucie credited the recovery of the engraved gold ring on Sharmon Stock’s kitchen floor with cracking the case. “Nick’s nightmare began on April 25 when local law enforcement officers made the decision to arrest him without any evidence except for the statement of Matt Livers,” Soucie declared. “This arrest was made without any attempt to first verify any of the things said by Mr. Livers. This represented a bad case of tunnel vision and the investigators failed the basic requirements of Homicide Investigation 101.”
Soucie unleashed more vitriol toward the Nebraska State Patrol and Cass County. “It was obvious from the beginning that Nick Sampson had absolutely no motive or reason to harm Wayne or Sharmon Stock,” Soucie said.
In fact, only one interaction surfaced during the murder investigation, an incident from 2004 when Nick and Matt borrowed the four-wheelers out of Wayne Stock’s machine shed on a winter day and rode through the barren hay fields. Wayne Stock got mad and yelled at Matt for borrowing the ATVs without his permission. Nick, on the other hand, was only a shirt-tail cousin of the Stocks. “That such an incident could form the basis for Nick holding a grudge for years and then serving as the motion for committing these two murders as revenge is simply absurd,” Soucie contended.
In fact, the police theory that Matt and Nick plotted the murders during a phone call prior to Easter should have been easily debunked by law enforcement. Phone records revealed the two cousins had not even spoken to one another on the phone during the previous four months prior to the murders, Soucie noted. During the double murder investigation, police obtained phone records for more than fifty separate numbers from more than two dozen users and subscribers in Nebraska, Wisconsin and Texas. Email wasn’t practical since Nick and his roommates didn’t have computers at their house in Palmyra, and neither did the Wisconsin teens. “The time line and phone records do not show any connection between Nick Sampson or Matt Livers for that matter and anyone from Wisconsin including Jessica Reid, Gregory Fester or anyone remotely connected to either Reid or Fester,” Soucie boasted.
He excoriated the Nebraska police for leaving his client to languish in a jail cell for four full months even after the real killers from Wisconsin were identified and had confessed. “The developments in Wisconsin during the first week of June with the arrests of Reid and Fester should have made it painfully clear that what Matt Livers said was not credible and demonstrably false,” Soucie determined. “This will become even more apparent as the prosecutions of Reid and Fester continue and hearings are held in Livers’ case.”
After Soucie finished bashing the local cops, he switched gears and singled out one Wisconsin detective for special praise. After all, it was the Wisconsin police who doggedly determined the murder weapons brought to the Murdock farmhouse had come from two other prior burglaries, first in Wisconsin, then a second in Iowa. This fact obliterated the Nebraska investigators’ theory that Matt, Nick or someone within their tight circle of friends had furnished the weapons as part of a well-planned conspiracy. “I want to especially thank Det. Jim Rohr of the Dodge County Wisconsin Sheriff’s Office for his work following through in investigating the involvement of Reid and Fester after the local investigators left Wisconsin,” Soucie said. “I am not at all sure that the Cass County and State Patrol investigators would have discovered important evidence exculpating Nick Sampson without Detective Rohr’s persistence and patience.”
So, on a beautiful Friday afternoon with blue skies and puffy white clouds lazily drifting across the southeastern Nebraska skyline, Nick Sampson realized his nightmare had ended. No more orange jail jumpsuits. No more perp walks through the Cass County Courthouse in front of television camera crews and newsprint photographers. No more law enforcement-monitored phone calls and visitations at the humbling jail facility. No more lonely days and depressing nights in an isolation cell. “I had nothing to do with this crime. No involvement in this case whatsoever. I was in my home in Palmyra the entire night,” Nick Sampson eagerly told Nebraska reporters, marking his first public comments since his April arrest. “Jail will break you in a heartbeat. On my second day in there, I was bawling like a 3-year-old. Isolation, it takes getting used to.”
After he faced murder charges, Nick’s fiancée Lori moved into Nick’s mother’s house in Murdock. With Nick in jail, she could no longer afford to pay the rent. “We were a two-income family, now it’s bad,” Nick commented as he sipped a can of Pepsi. “Luckily, I have one job left — at the Bulldogs.”
His friends from the Bulldogs smiled and cheered. They planned to host a welcome-home party at the small-town bar to cheer up his spirits. When reporters asked Nick to comment about the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, Sampson rolled his eyes.
“I don’t think they know how to investigate a murder,” he snapped. …
The Kent State University Press granted permission to The Reader to publish this excerpt.
JOHN FERAK BOOK SIGNINGS
SUNDAY, AUG. 3, 1 P.M.
8702 Pacific St.
MONDAY, AUG. 4, 7 P.M.
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Oakview Mall, 3333 Oak View Drive
Wednesday, Aug. 6, 6 p.m.
Omaha Public Library
Abrahams Branch, 5111 N. 90th St.
THURSDAY, AUG. 7
Ralston’s Baright Public Library
5555 S. 77th., Ralston
Plattsmouth Public Library
401 Avenue A, Plattsmouth
Special guest, Jerry Soucie, public defender for wrongly accused defendant Nick Sampson.