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Home Features John Ferak Speaks to Students About Wrongful Convictions

by Emily Kollbaum


Concordia students, faculty and staff gathered on Tuesday, Sept. 13 in the auditorium of the Thom Leadership Education Center to hear John Ferak, author of “Bloody Lies” and “Failure of Justice,” speak about wrongful convictions.

Ferak is a best-selling, true-crime author and was the lead investigative reporter on the Steven Avery case, which was featured in the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.” Ferak worked in Nebraska previously as a reporter at the Omaha World Herald, where he dove into investigations and cases around Nebraska. Ferak presented about two murder cases that have impacted Nebraska very directly, the “Beatrice 6” case and the murder of Wayne and Sharmon Stock in Murdock.

The “Beatrice 6” case was the topic of Ferak’s book “Failure of Justice.” He also spoke about  wrongful convictions that found six people imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.

The crime involved Helen Wilson, who was attacked in her home in Feburary 1985. It was assumed a robbery and a former officer, Burt Searcey, pursued the case as a private investigator. He followed a lead that pointed to JoAnn Taylor and Joe White. Following this, four other co defendants were named: Debbie Sheldon, Kathy Gonzalez, Tom Winslow and James Dean. The six spent a collective 70 years in prison following conviction.

“Joe White fought and fought and fought to prove his innocence,” Ferak said. “He really should be honored and revered for what he was doing with his life and his trying to make the best of it.”

Ferak also covered the murder of Wayne and Sharmon Stock, the topic of his book “Bloody Lies.”

“The ‘Bloody Lies’ case was a scary and creepy case to begin with.” Ferak said. The murder of the Stocks was one that started with a family being accused, but later, a ring found on the scene led the investigation to a stolen truck from Wisconsin. The truck was eventually connected to Greg Fester and Jessica Reid who had prior felonies on their records. Unlike the “Beatrice 6” case, the family members that were accused only spent months in jail.

The case also led to the downfall Nebraska’s top CSI official, Dave Kofoed. The car found on the scene originally had no evidence, but Kofoed later found blood under the steering column. He then went on trial and was sentenced to four years in prison for tampering with evidence.

According to Ferak, he doesn’t just look for cases for their shock factor or entertainment. He doesn’t write about or tell these stories to undermine the authority of the police. He brings to light the flaws that can arise in the system. There is a purpose behind what he chooses.

“I try to look for cases that I believe there will be strong public interest and that I can also find a lesson to be learned,” Ferak said.

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