A brief court hearing for the man accused of killing Turlock’s Korey Kauffman ended with a Stanislaus County judge stating he may have to recuse himself from the case if additional arrests are made.
Stanislaus County Judge Ricardo Cordova also said he wouldn’t be the only judge to do so.
Robert Lee Woody, 38, of Turlock was in court Tuesday morning to have an attorney appointed to his case. The Public Defender’s Office had to earlier decline the case because of a conflict with one of the witnesses. Private defense attorney Robert Orenstein was appointed to the case, but also had to decline representing Woody because his firm had received confidential information from one of the individuals on the witness list, which created a conflict for his firm.
Eventually, defense attorney Bruce Perry was appointed by the court to represent Woody on the homicide and conspiracy to obstruct justice charges related to the murder of Kauffman.
After appointing counsel Judge Cordova told Perry that if the other co-conspirators in the criminal complaint filed against Woody are arrested, he would have to recuse himself, as would “likely the whole bench,” Cordova said in reference to the other Stanislaus County Superior Court judges.
One reason for the entirety of the county’s judicial branch recusing itself from a case would be if one of the accused was an individual who worked at the courthouse.
The criminal complaint lists the three co-conspirators as B, C, and D and lists four overt acts of conspiracy. It states co-conspirators B and D agreed to help co-conspirator C. The criminal complaint states that on May 24, 2012, Woody and co-conspirator B went and threatened a witness on behalf of co-conspirator C. Additionally co-conspirators B and D are accused of paying for Woody to “leave the jurisdiction so as not to be a witness/suspect.”
The criminal complaint claims Woody had an agreement with all three co-conspirators that they would bail him out and “C would provide him with legal representation if defendant (Woody) were arrested so as to induce defendant not to cooperate with law enforcement.
There have been several search warrants served in Kauffman’s case since his disappearance on March 30, 2012. One of those warrants was served at a property in the 800 block of Ninth Street in Turlock that belongs to defense attorney and Stanislaus County District Attorney candidate Frank Carson. Multiple sources close to the investigation confirmed to the Journal that the warrant was served in 2012 and was in connection to the Kauffman case.
The search warrant remains sealed and it is unknown what if anything might have been taken as evidence.
Carson did not return a call for comment as of press time. The Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters candidate list shows Carson filed a statement of intention to run for the county’s district attorney on Nov. 15, 2013. He has since qualified to be on the ballot.
Kauffman’s remains were found in August 2013 in Stanislaus National Forest.
Investigators have previously stated Kauffman was headed over to a property in the 800 block of Ninth Street when he disappeared. Kauffman was at the home of Michael Cooley in the 1300 block of Lander Avenue. The Lander property abuts up to the back of Carson’s Ninth Street property. Cooley admits that he and Kauffman were thinking of sneaking onto Carson’s property that night and taking some irrigation pipes that had been put out. But Cooley said he had second thoughts when he saw some men on Carson’s property.
Allegations of theft had instigated an ongoing dispute between Cooley and Carson long before the night Kauffman vanished. A record of call for service requests from the Turlock Police Department show officers were dispatched to the Lander Avenue home several times because Carson and Cooley were in verbal disputes. There is no record of stolen property being recovered and no arrests were ever made.
Investigators have also served search warrants related to the Kauffman case at a home in the 1100 block of East Avenue, the East Avenue and Crowell Avenue locations of Pop-N-Cork, and the Ceres residences of brothers Baljit and Daljit Atwal, who own Pop-N-Cork.
The East Avenue residence searched by law enforcement is the last known address of Woody, who was taken into custody days after the warrant was served. He has remained in custody at an undisclosed site without bail.
Cooley claims he is the witness who was threatened by Woody and co-conspirator B, who he alleges is Baljit Atwal. Cooley said he came out of his home to find Woody and Baljit Atwal parked in a car in front of his home.
“They told me I had better mind my own business and quit looking into things that didn’t concern me,” Cooley said.
Baljit Atwal denies ever threatening Cooley. He says he and Woody were asked by Carson to keep an eye out for some property stolen off of Carson’s land. Carson suspected Cooley of the theft and Woody and Baljit Atwal went to a local recycling center to find out where Cooley lived. Baljit Atwal said he was driving by the home when Cooley came out and said something like, ‘can I help you friend?’
“I said ‘I’m not your friend’ and that was it. We drove off. There was no threat,” Baljit Atwal said.
Both Baljit and Daljit Atwal have denied any involvement in the death of Kauffman.
Prior to Woody’s arrest, Praveen Singh, a Modesto bail bondsman and investigator for Carson was identified by investigators as a “person of interest in the case” of Kauffman’s death. Investigators believed Singh was concealing information about the murder. Singh was taken into custody on Nov. 27, 2013, on unrelated criminal charges.
Woody is scheduled for a pretrial hearing April 10.
The investigation into Kauffman’s murder remains open and ongoing.