Four months after a Stanislaus County jury found Frank Carson not guilty of murder, the defense attorney is working on moving forward with his life and career, but that is not to say he is ready to let bygones be bygones.
Carson and brothers, Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, who own the Pop N’ Cork stores in Turlock, were facing criminal charges for the death of 26-year-old Turlock resident Korey Kauffman.
Kauffman disappeared at the end of March 2012 and his remains were found in the Stanislaus National Forest in August 2013. The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation, which led them to identify Carson as their primary suspect.
The prosecution built their case against Carson and the others on the claim that Carson was enraged over a series of thefts from his Turlock property and masterminded a plan to catch one of the thieves and send a message to all the others. Their case claimed Carson orchestrated a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the death of Kauffman and that thereafter the defendants worked to hide the death from authorities and thwart any investigation.
Along with Carson and the two brothers, the district attorney’s office also arrested Carson’s wife Georgia DeFilippo and former California Highway Patrol Officer Walter Wells and charged them all with murder. Carson’s stepdaughter, Christina DeFilippo, and former CHP officers Eduardo Quintanar and Scott McFarlane were charged with conspiracy and being accessories in the death and cover-up. Previous to any of the other arrests, Robert Lee Woody was arrested and charged with murder in the case and agreed to a deal that had him enter a guilty plea and agree to testify for the prosecution.
Woody’s plea deal was the only conviction that resulted from the 18-month long preliminary hearing — a record breaking length for a hearing in California — and the 14-month long trial.
Carson and his attorney Percy Martinez sat down with the Turlock Journal recently for a Q&A.
Turlock Journal: Was there a point that you were thinking that you were going to be arrested? Did it surprise you that your wife and stepdaughter also were arrested?
Frank Carson: I would say totally surprised.
Percy Martinez: We knew they were after Mr. Carson because when he was in trial in his own murder cases, defending his clients, they would put out what they would call “ticklers.” A tickler is they put out information that would get to his ear and would make him pick up the phone and maybe make a statement to somebody who he is involved with. So, they would say ‘hey tell your buddy Mr. Carson’ —they would go to different attorneys — ‘tell your buddy Mr. Carson that we’re going to come and arrest him next week.’ And this is while he’s in trial. So, these were ticklers designed to frighten him or maybe make him get on the telephone and make some type of incriminating remark. So, we knew they were going to come and arrest him.
FC: Also it was to impact the job I was doing for my clients in trial. Now fortunately it didn’t because we were still winning. I’m bragging, but we won trial after trial. We won every trial in 2013 and 2014. So, I sent a letter to Birgit Fladager, the DA, that said your investigator Mr. Bunch is telling people I’m going to be arrested for murder. If and when you decide you want to arrest me for murder all you have to do is pick up the phone and call me or my attorney and I will surrender immediately to either you or the court. And I never got a phone call.
CARSON TRIAL TIMELINE
Late March 2012 — Korey Kauffman last seen alive.
Aug. 19, 2013 — Kauffman’s remains found in Stanislaus National Forest.
March 6, 2014 — Robert Lee Woody is taken into custody for Kauffman’s murder.
Aug. 14, 2015 — Frank Carson, Baljit Athwal, Daljit Atwal, Carson’s wife Georgia DeFilippo, his stepdaughter Christina DeFilippo, Walter Wells, and former CHP Officers Scott McFarlane and Eduardo Quintanar are arrested for Kauffman’s murder.
Aug. 18, 2015 — Carson, Athwal, Atwal, Georgia DeFilippo and Wells are officially charged with the murder of Kauffman. McFarlane, Quintanar and Christina DeFilippo are charged with being accessories after the fact and conspiracy.
Oct. 20, 2015 — Preliminary hearing begins.
Dec. 17, 2016 — Judge Barbara Zuniga ordered Frank Carson and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal released from custody after the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office revealed they potentially might have found more items not previously released to the defense during discovery.
April 10, 2017 — Judge Zuniga ruled that there was enough cause to hold Carson, Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal over for trial on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. She ordered the murder charge against Wells dismissed, but ruled there was enough cause to hold him over for trial on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and a new charge of conspiracy. Judge Zuniga ruled that there was insufficient evidence to hold Georgia DeFilippo and Christina DeFilippo over on any of the charges lodged by the prosecution.
April 2018 — Georgia DeFilippo and Christina DeFilippo filed a lawsuit against Stanislaus County, the City of Modesto, the City of Turlock, the City of Ceres, and members of law enforcement and the district attorney’s office for violation of their civil rights, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation.
April 2018 — Carson, Athwal and Atwal’s trial starts in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Aug. 28, 2018 — Judge Zuniga revoked Carson, Athwal and Atwal’s release because it was discovered the three men had been in contact with one another.
September 2018 — Carson, Athwal and Atwal post bail.
June 28, 2019 — Jury finds Carson, Athwal and Atwal not guilty on charges of first- and second-degree murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The jury also came back with not guilty verdicts for the brothers on voluntary manslaughter charges.
TJ: Having said that to the DA, why do you think they made the arrest the way they did?
PM: It was designed to pressure. It was all designed to pressure him by arresting his family. They did this in gang cases and this was basically a gang task force that was handling this case. So, they have a whole protocol for when they arrest a bunch of people and they get them to turn on each other. So, they arrest his family and typically a person doesn’t want to see their family suffering and so they say you know what I’ll take the whole blame, just let them go. And they actually came to us and said if Mr. Carson pleads guilty, we’ll let his wife go, we’ll let his daughter go. They didn’t say to plead guilty to what, they just said he has to plead guilty to something and we will let his family go. And that was on the Sunday before the prelim started.
FC: To give you an idea of this psychologically choreographed thing that they did, they arrested us, every defendant and then they took us out to the jail and then they took Woody, Robert Woody that jackass, and brought him in and they put him in a little room that overlooked where we all had to walk past. And all of us tread by in handcuffs, so that it would have an impact on him and that he would tell a story — true or not — that would get him out of it and that was all carefully choreographed to get him there and do all this. Then he’s supposed to see if the police are willing to arrest Mr. Carson then they’re willing to arrest anybody. If they’re going to get Mr. Carson and his family, then they’ll get anybody’s family. Frankly what it was, was an effort to not just neutralize but to destroy people.
PM: To destroy his family life, his practice, everything.
FC: It’s the politics of personal destruction. And it’s a lesson to everybody else that either runs against them or gives them a hard time or wins cases. We did all those things.
PM: I think the biggest craw that stuck in the DA’s mind was that Mr. Carson personally ran against her in the 2014 election and he accused her — first of all of the investigators being crooked and then the very same investigators Mr. Carson accused of being crooked were the ones that were personally put in charge of … major roles in handling the case.
TJ: What was it like for you being on the other side of a defense?
FC: It was not a complete surprise because having done this for over 30 plus years you get used to the system, but you still have no idea until you’re in the middle of it just how terrible it can be. What was unique about it was the fact they decided to include my family. It’s one thing to deal with professionals, but when … they’re trying to destroy your family that’s by far in my opinion was one of the most difficult things to deal with at that time.
TJ: Was there anything that happened during the preliminary hearing or the trial that really surprised you?
FC: Yeah, I had hoped we would have a fair shake from the court and unfortunately, we had a judge that was intent on acting as a prosecutor as well. That was very disappointing. That was perhaps one of the most surprising and disappointing aspects of it.
TJ: What were your thoughts on all the attention the arrests and the trial garnered?
FC: Well it was devastating. It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating. But I just got to the point where I can’t control any of it. As far as the effect on my family, they didn’t deserve any of that, nor did I, but young people like my daughter and my wife had never been exposed to anything like this. They had never been arrested, had never been part of the system. It’s just devastating. For that I will never, ever forgive any of these people. They knew what they were doing and it was to put pressure on me. I think under different circumstances it might have worked, but I had a good attorney that I trusted and had faith and people had faith in me. Everything just got us through it.
TJ: What was the moment like for you when you were waiting to hear the jury’s verdict?
FC: Difficult, hopeful. Percy was in the hospital and that was kind of anti-climactic. I would have preferred he was there, but his brother is a retired lawyer and stood in for him. That was nice. But I knew that would confuse the jury as to why Percy wasn’t there. The whole thing was just surreal.
TJ: What were some of the comments you heard from jury members?
PM: They were most impressed with the testimony from Kevin Pickett, the stepfather, who told them on day one of the trial that his son disappeared on the 29th and they had a witness, Mr. Cooley, who said no he disappeared on the 30th, which was very important which date he disappeared on. So, if you believed stepdad, who I think the jury believed really loved his son, he wouldn’t be lying about something like that. Whereas Michael Cooley was the last person to see him alive and what he did was tell them I think Mr. Carson did it and with just that they launched an investigation on Mr. Carson. I think that most of them felt that Kevin Pickett would be the person most believable about the day Mr. Kauffman disappeared and if you believed Mr. Pickett that he disappeared on the 29th, then you would have to disbelief the story Michael Cooley was trying to push.
TJ: Regardless of what the jury found, there are going to be people out there who believe you got away with murder. How do you move past that?
PM: We had a 14-month trial where they put everything on the table. The jury was not there for us or them. They were there to listen to everything the DA had to present and they heard everything and that’s why it took 14 months, because the jury was presented with everything they had and the jury said no we don’t find this man did it, or we find him not guilty because they didn’t prove their case and that’s all we can do. We rely on that jury. I’m sure if they had said ‘hey you’re guilty’ what could we do. We know it’s not true. The problem the Kauffman family had was that they relied on all the stories being told by the DA’s office. They put their trust in the DA’s office and the DA’s office didn’t have a good case. But they were led to believe they did by the district attorney’s office and when it didn’t come out the way they were being told it should, they just erupted.
FC: They were told that a conviction was in the bag. They called over 100 witnesses and the judge gave them every bit of leeway to prove their case and I think it speaks volumes in fact that neither the Atwals or myself had to testify. We were all prepared to testify but that would have taken longer and extended the trial for months. The fact that the jury didn’t even need to hear from us, I think is really one of the more constructive aspects of it as far as our innocence.
PM: The jurors, their assessment was that all these people that they were bringing were just not credible. They had 140 witnesses and we just used those very same witnesses. We didn’t bring anyone new. We just recalled them and questioned them about their stories and it just didn’t hold water.
FC: I think it was God’s plan that we did exactly what we did because had we kept going it could have been a mistrial with Percy being ill. They wanted a mistrial in my opinion, they were fighting for it. they wanted to exhaust the jury. I personally think they knew they had problems and they would have done anything to have a mistrial because they would rather have a mistrial than an acquittal. I can’t explain it, but it seemed to be a divine plan.
TJ: What’s next for you?
FC: We are looking at our options in terms of civil redress. My wife and daughter have previously retained attorneys out of Oakland and we are interviewing attorneys to represent myself against the county. I would like to make sure that this never happens to anyone else like this again. Because if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone, whether it’s a political opponent or someone who is a whistleblower or anything. We hope to stop it.
TJ: Any plans on running for district attorney again?
FC: It’s too early to tell.