After a month-long hiatus, the preliminary hearing in the death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman resumed Tuesday with the judge scheduling a date for closing arguments to begin.
Closing arguments are tentatively set to begin March 7 and could last about a week. By the time Judge Barbara Zuniga makes her ruling it could be nearing the five-year anniversary of Kauffman’s death at the end of March 2012.
Modesto defense attorney Frank Carson, his wife Georgia DeFilippo, former California Highway Patrol Officer Walter Wells, and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, who own the Pop N’ Cork stores in Turlock, have all been charged with Kauffman’s murder. Former CHP Officers Scott McFarlane and 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. They all have entered not guilty pleas.
Robert Lee Woody, who was the first to be arrested for Kauffman’s killing, agreed to a plea deal and has testified for the prosecution. Woody is set to be sentenced March 9.
The district attorney’s office claims Carson was angry over thefts at his property on Ninth Street that he believed were being committed by his Lander Avenue neighbor Michael Cooley. Their theory of the case has Carson — the one-time candidate for district attorney — serving as the mastermind of a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the death of Kauffman on March 31, 2012.
Woody previously testified that Atwal and Athwal beat up Kauffman on Carson’s property and that one of them shot and killed Kauffman. Woody said he helped bury the body in a field behind the East Avenue location of the Pop N’ Cork and then later helped move it to the Stanislaus National Forest, where it was later discovered by a pair of hunters.
The preliminary hearing is being held to determine if there is enough cause to hold the defendants over for trial on the charges lodged against them. It was nearing the end when the issue of discovery became a prickly one between the prosecution and defense teams. Questions started to arise if everything had been handed over to the defense after they had rested their cases. For a defense team, discovery is their opportunity to review and examine the witnesses and evidence the prosecution plans on presenting during the course of a trial and is a foundation of a defendant’s right to a fair trial.
On Dec. 22, 2016, the district attorney’s office provided the defense attorneys with 81 audio recordings, information from Woody’s Facebook page, and one additional report that prosecutors were uncertain on whether or not had been turned over during previous discovery. By Dec. 30, the number of items had grown to 108.
The revelation that some evidence may have not been handed over to the defense in a timely manner prompted Zuniga to order the release of Carson, Atwal and Athwal on their own recognizance on Dec. 22. Wells had been released a week prior on a reduced bail amount and DeFilippo has been out on bail since the early days of the preliminary hearing.
On Jan. 3, Zuniga ordered the prosecution to conduct an audit of all the items subject to discovery and report back with a master list on Tuesday. Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira provided the detailed audit for the court on Tuesday. Of the 108 items that the prosecution was unsure if they had been handed over to the defense, the audit found that 55 had been turned over. In some instances, the evidence had been provided to the defense in one form or another, but not necessarily all forms. For example, they may have had a video recording of an interview and the transcript, but not the audio recording. Ferreira said the district attorney’s office had handed over more than 32,000 documents, 98,084 recordings and more than 1,000 computer disks of information.
Martha Carlton-Magana, who is defending Athwal, called the prosecution’s release of discovery a “snow ball technique” that hampered the defense’s ability to impeach certain witnesses’ testimony. But Carlton-Magana also said she was ready for the preliminary hearing to end and requested an immediate ruling from the judge. Defense attorney Robert Forkner, who is representing Christina DeFilippo, agreed and also asked for an immediate ruling, to which Zuniga warned “be careful what you wish for.”
Percy Martinez, who is defending Carson, said he had two motions he wants the court to rule on before proceeding with the closing arguments. The motions will be heard on Feb. 21.