The first week of the preliminary hearing for the case of Korey Kauffman’s murder concluded with testimony from one of the detectives assigned to the investigation after the 26-year-old man was reported missing.
Turlock Police Detective Frank Navarro took the stand Friday and testified about his interviews with Robert Jaquish. Jaquish is an admitted thief who claims to have had a close call on Frank Carson’s property in December 2011.
On March 30, 2012, Kauffman left a Lander Avenue residence and headed over to a property on Ninth Street in Turlock. Investigators have said Kauffman was going to a home that belonged to Carson with the intention of stealing some irrigation pipes. His remains were found more than a year and a half later in the Stanislaus National Forest.
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.
Sometime between when Kauffman was reported missing and July 2012, Jaquish contacted someone involved in the investigation to share an experience he claims to have had on Carson’s property. At the time contact was made Jaquish was in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail for a probation violation and was later released for home monitoring, according to the court records.
Navarro first interviewed Jaquish in July 2012. Jaquish told the detective he had decided to sneak onto Carson’s property on Ninth Street in Turlock because he knew Carson had a lot of items stored there and Jaquish thought he could find something to steal. He told the detective he stored his bike in a lot on Lander and accessed Carson’s property through a hole in a fence.
Navarro testified that in the interview Jaquish described entering a building that looked like a chicken coop. He could see the outbuilding was full of antiques, old cars and on this occasion, a man armed with a rifle.
Jaquish told the investigator the man was speaking on a cell phone and remembered hearing him say, "I think he’s still in here; come to the back."
Jaquish said he found himself locked in the outbuilding with the armed man approaching and had to use a crow bar to pry open the siding on the wall and make his escape.
In his account of the events, Jaquish told the detective he ran out the front way of the property to a park on Ninth Street and waited for the police to arrive. He claims he waited for four hours and when no law enforcement arrived he decided to go retrieve his bike hidden off Lander Avenue.
Jaquish said he was getting on his bike when a man jumped out of the bushes and grabbed him, according to Navarro’s testimony.
Jaquish told the detective he asked the man who he was and the man replied, "It doesn’t matter who I am." He also recalled that the man was on a cell phone and told someone "I got him in the back. Hurry up."
Jaquish says he broke away from the man and ran across Lander Avenue and hid. He told the investigator he saw a blue minivan driving up and down Lander Avenue and he had the impression the driver was looking for him. Under cross-examination Navarro said investigators were not able to find any blue minivan associated to Carson.
In the July 2012 interview, Jaquish was shown a picture of Carson and identified him as the man who jumped out of the bushes. He was shown a photo of Carson’s brother, Terry Carson and said he was the man in the chicken coop. In a subsequent interview in September 2013, Jaquish was shown a photo line-up of six individuals, one of whom was the father of a man Carson was defending in Mariposa County. Jaquish picked out this man and another unrelated man as saying they looked similar to the man he had seen in the chicken coop, according to Navarro.
The Ramey warrant filed with the arrest of the defendants states Jaquish recalled seeing a bulge that looked like a weapon on the waistband of the man who jumped out of the bushes. Navarro testified Jaquish never mentioned anything about the bulge to him, but he also was questioned by another investigator on a separate occasion.
No police report of the break-in was ever found, Navarro said.
In the four days of testimony in the preliminary hearing, only a handful of witnesses have been called as the process of seven attorneys questioning and cross-examining witnesses has proven to be a lengthy exercise.
The prosecution has called police officers from the Turlock Police Department and a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department deputy to testify about their observation when responding to calls that involved Carson.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Deputy Noel Vento testified that he responded to a call for service made by Carson. He went to a home in the 1300 block of Lander Avenue, where Mike Cooley lived. The home abuts Carson’s property on Ninth Street. Carson told the deputy he had been at an antique show in Alameda County and had seen some antique books that he recognized as having belonged to him. Carson later checked one of his containers and found the books had been stolen. The books were being sold by a Hilmar antiques dealer who told Carson he had bought them from an unknown white male. According to Vento’s testimony, Carson suspected Cooley was responsible for the thefts. He requested the home be searched and Cooley gave his consent. Vento testified he did not find any stolen property. Under cross-examination Vento couldn’t recall if he had looked in the closets or cabinets and didn’t know what items to look for, other than something that appeared to be an antique.
Vento testified that Carson appeared upset and recalled hearing him say that he "couldn’t believe he was being broken into again."
Vento said Carson was given a property sheet to fill out and send to the sheriff’s department. He was unaware if any follow-up investigation into the burglary was conducted.
On Feb. 23, 2011, a call was made to TPD by Carson’s wife reporting Carson and an unknown man, later identified as Cooley, were in a verbal dispute over possible stolen property. TPD Officer Queray McMihelk testified he responded to the home in the 1300 block of Lander and spoke with Carson, who he recalled appeared agitated. Carson told the officer items had been stolen from his property and he believed Cooley was responsible. Cooley’s home was searched and no stolen property was found.
On Jan. 2, 2012, TPD Officer Kim Briggs was investigating a suspicious vehicle and found Carson sitting in a parked car in the 100 block of Montana, which is directly diagonal from where Cooley resided. Briggs testified he saw the man slouched down in the vehicle. When he approached the man, he recognized him as Carson. He testified that Carson was friendly and answered all of his questions. He said Carson told him he had been having thefts on his property and was watching it in an attempt to identify the thieves. Briggs testified from Carson’s vantage point, only Cooley’s house was visible.
To illustrate the feud between Carson and Cooley, the prosecution called Sabrina Romero, who lived in a home in front of Cooley’s on Lander Avenue. Romero testified about an incident she witnessed between Carson and Cooley in March 2012. She testified she saw a man and Cooley screaming at one another and recalled hearing the man say, “If I catch you in my yard I’ll kill you and no one will ever find you.”
When questioned about the incident in May 2012, Romero positively identified Carson’s photograph as the man she had seen arguing with Cooley. But in the courtroom on Thursday she was unable to point out Carson.
The preliminary hearing is being held to determine if the district attorney’s office has enough cause to hold the defendants over for trial on the charges lodged against them. Testimony will resume Monday.