Poet William Carlos Williams famously wrote that “so much depends upon a red wheel barrow.” The same could be said for irrigation pipes, which are proving to play a pivotal role in the preliminary hearing for the six defendants charged in connection to the murder of Korey Kauffman.
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.
The last day Kauffman was seen alive was March 30, 2012. He visited the home of Michael Cooley on Lander Avenue several times that day and night. On what ended up being his final departure, Kauffman said he had plans to go recycling around the corner and would be back later. He never returned and his disappearance prompted a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement investigation that officially became a homicide investigation when his remains were found in the Stanislaus National Forest by hunters.
The tension between Michael Cooley and Carson is a key element in the case. The Lander Avenue property where Michael Cooley lived in 2012 abuts up to the back of Carson’s property. A hole in the fence was used on more than one occasion for thieves to access Carson’s property, where he had a plethora of old automobiles, parts, tools, scrap metal, and trailers full of antiques, books, and various household items.
The prosecution’s case claims irrigation pipes were piled up on Frank Carson’s Turlock property on Ninth Street around late March in the hopes it would lure in the thieves who had been routinely targeting the property. The criminal complaint filed against the defendants alleges they were on the property lying in wait for someone to come along and try and steal any of the belongings.
For some time Carson suspected Michael Cooley was responsible for the theft of his belongings, or was at least allowing others to access his property, possibly in exchange for some of the stolen merchandise. The two men had several heated encounters that on a couple of occasions resulted in law enforcement being called to the scene. Michael Cooley was never found with any of Carson’s property.
In a previous interview with the Journal, Michael Cooley said he thought Carson had become “obsessed” with him and the placement of the irrigation pipes was an attempt to bait him into coming on the property.
Michael Cooley has yet to take the stand, but the other individuals at the house that day have all been called to the witness stand and all have mentioned seeing irrigation pipes.
Rickey Cooley was living in a barn on the Lander Avenue property and was there on March 30, 2012. He testified last week that Kauffman saw the irrigation pipes on Carson’s property and said he was going to take them and recycle them for the cash. The pipes were no more than 10 or 12 feet from the fence line, Rickey Cooley said. He testified he had seen two men on the property that day and they appeared to be watching him and the others at the Lander residence. Later in the evening he saw three men on the property, two of which appeared to be armed with rifles, according to his recollection of events while on the witness stand.
Rickey Cooley also testified his brother Michael Cooley warned Kauffman not to go on Carson’s property because they had seen possibly armed men. Rickey Cooley testified Kauffman said he wouldn’t go there, but would go somewhere else.
Linda Burns, Michael Cooley’s sister, also was staying at the Lander residence and she testified she saw two men through binoculars. She said it appeared like the two men were trying to hide behind some of the items on the property. During her testimony Burns also said remembered seeing some irrigation pipes on the property.
The defense attorneys representing the six defendants have been credulous about Rickey Cooley and Burns’ testimony about the irrigation pipes because neither of them previously mentioned the pipes to investigators.
A recorded interview between Rickey Cooley and an investigator was played during cross-examination that the defense believes paints some questions about his testimony. On the tape the investigator asks Rickey Cooley if he saw any aluminum pipes on Carson’s property that day and Rickey Cooley said no.
The night after Burns’ first day of testimony, District Attorney’s Office Investigator Kirk Bunch received a call from Eula Keyes, who said she was concerned about Burns and asked the investigator to call her. Bunch testified Tuesday he called Burns to check on her well-being and that he told her that he “didn’t want to talk about her testimony or what had happened in court.”
Bunch said he didn’t record the conversation, which lasted no longer than two minutes, because he “had no intention of interviewing” Burns. He said he was concerned for Burns’ well-being because she had told him she was fearful of Carson and she believed she was being followed.
Bunch testified Tuesday that he started his conversation with Burns by asking her what was going on, and with that prompt, she began crying and going into a narrative about testifying. Burns had testified she heard Kauffman say he was going over to Carson’s property, but that she didn’t know why. In the phone call she said she was afraid to say it was to get the irrigation pipes.
Bunch said he interrupted her to tell her to stop talking, but that she “is very unique in that she won’t take a breath.”
Bunch said he again told Burns they couldn’t talk about her testimony and he said all the attorneys would have to be notified of their contact, which made her cry again. The prosecution gave the defense attorneys in the case a report completed by Bunch about the incident the morning after the conversation.
Eula Keyes, the girlfriend of Michael Cooley, lived at the Lander residence and also testified that she had seen the irrigation pipes on Carson’s property. She testified that she was fairly sure the pipes had been put out just a few days before Kauffman and went missing and that a few days after he had gone missing, she noticed some of the pipes were missing or moved. The defense questioned Keyes on why she never mentioned the irrigation pipes to investigators, but she stated she was pretty certain she had said something about them.
The preliminary hearing is being held to determine if there is enough cause to hold the defendants over for trial on the charged lodged against them. Testimony will resume Monday.