The preliminary hearing for the defendants accused of taking part in the murder of a 26-year-old Turlock resident got underway Tuesday with defense attorneys trying to strike from the record all testimony from a prosecution witness and lodged an accusation of prosecutorial misconduct in the process.
The preliminary hearing for the murder of Korey Kauffman is being held to determine if there is sufficient cause to hold the multiple defendants over for trial on the charges filed against them.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s case puts forth the claim that defense attorney and one-time district attorney candidate Frank Carson, enraged over a series of thefts from his Turlock property, was the mastermind behind a plan to catch one of the thieves and send a message to all the others. Their case claims Carson orchestrated a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the death of Kauffman on March 31, 2012, and that thereafter the defendants worked to hide the death from authorities and thwart any investigation. In addition to Carson, the district attorney has accused his wife, Georgia DeFilippo, Turlock brothers and Pop N’ Cork owners Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, and former California Highway Patrol Officer Walter Wells with murder. CHP Officers Scott McFarlane, Eduardo Quintanar, and Carson’s stepdaughter Christina DeFilippo have all been charged with being accessories after the fact and conspiracy. McFarlane and Quintanar are not part of the preliminary hearing, nor is Robert Lee Woody, who was arrested in March 2014 and charged with Kauffman’s murder.
Tuesday morning the defense made a motion to have the entirety of Cathy Grinolds’ testimony stricken from the record on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, because they said they were not informed beforehand of new information presented by Grinolds.
Grinolds was renting an apartment at the 838 Ninth Street property owned by Carson and was living there in March 2012. In a previous interview with investigators Grinolds never mentioned anything about security guards or men hired to watch the property, but on Monday she testified she recalled seeing three men in dark clothing out on a roof top deck looking out at the back of the property.
The defense argued that the information about three men seen on the property was not disclosed to them prior to Grinolds’ testimony, even though the prosecution had known about it since Oct. 13.
“This was the first time we ever heard about the three men on the roof,” said Percy Martinez, who is representing Carson. “The prosecution should have told us as part of discovery…they’ve done nothing to provide us with the information. A report could have been generated or at the very least they could have told us they had new information. They’ve been sitting on this for a week.”
Martinez argued that the district attorney’s office inaction on the matter amounted to prosecutorial misconduct, a charge the other defense attorneys endorsed.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira told Judge Barbara Zuniga that Grinolds made the statement in the presence of John Evers and district attorney Kirk Bunch in the lobby of the district attorney’s office on the morning of Oct. 13, the day the preliminary hearing began.
Ferreira explained Grinolds recalled the memory of seeing the three men after reading a newspaper story after the arrest of the defendants on Aug. 14. Stories were printed detailing Woody’s interview with an investigator in which he claims himself, Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, were all present on the property when Kauffman was killed.
Ferreira told the judge she believed Evers would be writing a report, but he left for a training school without turning a report in on Grinolds' statements.
“I should have verbally disclosed it and I’ll fall on the sword for that,” Ferreira told the judge.
In ruling on the matter, Zuniga said she was surprised at the “culture here of fighting” between the defense and the prosecution. While she chided the prosecution for “poor lawyering,” she did not believe the defense’s argument that the testimony was too prejudiced against them, saying they had done an “excruciating cross-examination” of the witness and provided evidence that could impeach her testimony.
The judge denied the defense’s motion to have the testimony stricken, but did order the prosecution to present a report on Grinolds' statement by today and told the defense they could recall the witness if they so desired.
Once the ruling was made, the preliminary hearing resumed with testimony from Linda Burns. She is the sister of Mike Cooley and was living at his home in March 2012. She recalled seeing Kauffman on the day he went missing and testified she overheard Kauffman say he was planning to go to Carson’s property that night.
Burns also testified that on that day she looked through a pair of binoculars and saw two older white males moving around on Carson’s property and that they appeared to be hiding.
Under cross-examination, Burns said she had sold antiques once at Irwin City Antiques in Hilmar. This is the same store where antique automobile books belonging to Carson had been sold by an unidentified man.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to resume today.