Department 8 in Stanislaus County Superior Court was abuzz with action as a capacity crowd was on hand to witness the arraignment of five defendants newly charged with the murder of 26-year-old Turlock resident Korey Kauffman, but all went silent when the first sound of shackles echoed out through the doorway.
One by one the five defendants shuffled into the court room donning the red and white stripped jumpsuit uniform of jail inmates. Last to enter and take a seat in the jury box was Frank Carson, who unlike the other four didn’t appear as shell shocked by the experience of the last four days, but rather as a man in his element.
The defense attorney and one time Stanislaus County district attorney candidate appeared in court Tuesday afternoon for an arraignment on various criminal charges, including murder for the death of Kauffman.
Carson was joined at the arraignment by his co-defendants: Georgia DeFilippo, Baljit Athwal, Daljit Athwal, and Walter Wells, a former California Highway Patrol officer.
All five were officially charged Tuesday by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office with the murder of Kauffman. Robert Lee Woody, who was not present at Tuesday’s hearing, is also charged with Kauffman’s murder. Woody has been in custody since his arrest in March 2014.
Carson’s stepdaughter, Christina DeFilippo, along with CHP Officers Eduardo Quintanar and Scott McFarlane, have been charged with conspiracy and being accessories in the case. The three have been out on bail since being arrested on Friday and were not present for Tuesday’s hearing, but were represented by their respective attorneys.
Tuesday’s arraignment drew a capacity crowd to the courthouse, with the galley full of attorneys, reporters, friends and family members of the victim and the defendants, and those just generally interested in the arrests. Those unable to get into the courtroom congregated in the hallway waiting to hear what the first move would be in the high profile case.
As it turned out, the first move was a continuance. All parties agreed to continue the arraignment hearing over to Tuesday, but that was about the only thing all parties could agree on.
Several of the defense attorneys made requests to visiting judge Socrates Peter Manoukian to have the waist shackles removed, but citing the cramped quarters, the judge ruled they would stay in place.
The defense attorneys requested bail be set for the defendants, but Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira, who is leading the prosecution’s team, argued against it, in part because the prosecution believes at least some of the defendants pose a threat to witnesses. After some debate, the judge ruled the defendants would continue to be held without bail.
The case against all nine defendants is the product of a multi-agency investigation that started probing into the details of Kauffman’s disappearance. Kauffman made his living by recycling metal that he obtained both legally and illegally by stealing it. He was last seen on March 30, 2012 and was headed to a property in the 800 block of Ninth Street in Turlock. Kauffman was spending time with Michael Cooley at Cooley’s residence in the 1300 block of Lander Avenue. The back of the Lander Avenue property abuts up to the back of Carson’s property in the 800 block of Ninth Street. Cooley said he and Kauffman had plans that night to get onto Carson’s property and steal the irrigation pipes, but before the appointed time Cooley changed his mind.
Cooley and Carson had been engaged in an ongoing feud with one another over stolen property. Carson owns two properties on Ninth Street — one in the 800 block and one in the 900 block. The two lots, particularly the one in the 800 block, is full of cargo containers, old cars and parts, antiques, and other assortment of items, including a double-decker bus. He had repeated confrontations with Cooley and accused him of stealing his property. The affidavit released Friday detailing the investigation’s findings includes numerous confrontations between the two men, at least one of which included a threat of violence from Carson. The affidavit states Cooley’s neighbors — Sabrina Romero and Justin Reedy — heard Carson tell Cooley that “if I ever catch anyone in my backyard I will kill them and no one will ever find them.”
On Aug. 19, 2013, three hunters in the Stanislaus National Forest in Mariposa County came across a human skull and alerted the authorities. The skull and other remains found at the scene were identified as Kauffman. A bullet was also found with the remains.
The first count of the criminal complaint accuses Carson, his wife Georgia DeFilippo, the Athwal brothers, and Wells of murdering Kauffman sometime between March 30, 2012 and March 31, 2012. It also carries a special allegation that the defendants committed the murder while lying in wait, which makes them eligible for the death penalty.
Ferreira told the court the district attorney’s office had not made a decision yet on whether or not the death penalty would be pursued in this case. The district attorney’s office has decided not to pursue the death penalty for Woody, but Ferreira said the district attorney’s office would not be making a move to have his case combined with the others.
Count two of the criminal complaint alleges that all nine defendants conspired together to obstruct justice and lists 17 overt acts of conspiracy.
In the first overt act, the prosecution claims Carson created a list of people he believed were stealing from his Turlock property and distributed this list to several individuals, including some of the co-defendants. The list, according to the affidavit was given out by Carson in May 2012 and was done after he represented Woody on a charge of possession of stolen property. According to the affidavit, Carson did not charge Woody in exchange for a Woody doing him a favor.
On July 2012, Baljit Athwal gave the list to investigators a few hours after they had questioned him about the case. The affidavit states the list looked to be a fax with the top part cut off.
The second overt act accuses Carson of conspiring electronically with Georgia DeFilippo and Christina DeFilippo to “facilitate and promote the false imprisonment and assault with great bodily injury of unidentified persons found to be trespassing” on his property.
Mary Lynn Belsher, who is representing Christina DeFilippo, called the charge of conspiracy against her client “ridiculous.”
“Who would arrest a man’s wife and daughter?” Belsher asked. “Who would do that?”
The third overt act accuses Carson of making threats to Cooley between February 2012 and April 2012. The affidavit states that at the time the threats were made it had been more than a year since Carson had reported any thefts to law enforcement.
The fourth overt act states Carson and other unidentified co-defendants set out “enticements” on the Ninth Street property.
In a previous interview, Cooley told the Journal it seemed like the irrigation pipes laid out on Carson’s property was some kind of “bait.”
“I saw people there and decided not to go,” Cooley said. “It just gave me a bad feeling and I told Korey not to go either.”
The fifth overt act accuses Carson of soliciting Ronald Cooper and Patrick Hampton to “commit assault with great bodily injury on unidentified persons found to be trespassing” on his property.
Cooper is a Turlock resident who met Carson after being assigned to the same jail cell as Rajesh Singh, who is the brother of Praveen Singh, who served as a private investigator for Carson and operates his own bail bond company, according to the affidavit. Cooper told investigators that Rajesh Singh told him he could have his brother bail him out for little money if Cooper would agree to be his “muscle.”
While in custody Cooper wrote a letter to Carson that stated he knew who was stealing from Carson and that he should come down to the jail to talk to him and help him with his legal troubles. In Cooper’s recount of the conversation to investigators, he said Carson asked him who was responsible for the thefts and he told him it was Cooley and his friends that were responsible for the thefts. According to Cooper’s account, Carson asked him if he had any friends out of custody that could help him with his property, but Cooper said no.
In the affidavit, the investigators said this showed Carson “was seeking persons of a criminal element to help him take care of his theft problem outside of involving law enforcement.”
Hampton was also an inmate when he first met Carson. Hampton sent a letter to a district attorney investigator in January of this year that detailed his dealings with Carson. Hampton told investigators he met Carson in 2011 when Carson agreed to represent him on a probation violation for $1,000 to $1,500, which Hampton could pay later. Prior to a bail reduction hearing, Hampton said he and Carson had a private conversation in which Carson asked him if he was “familiar with people in Turlock,” according to the affidavit. Hampton said he did and Carson asked if he knew the Cooley brothers. He said he knew them from jail. Hampton said Carson looked at his file and said he thought Hampton was the type of guy who “takes care of sh—.” According to the affidavit, Carson told Hampton the Cooley brothers needed to be “dealt with because they are robbing me blind.”
After Hampton was later bailed out by Praveen Singh’s bail bond company he was contacted by Carson, who asked him if he had a chance to “get at them” and “take care of that.” The affidavit states Carson also told Hampton that he wanted it “dealt with to send a message not to f— with my sh—.”
Hampton told the investigators he later told Carson it had been taken care of, though he actually hadn’t done anything. He later jumped his bail and was a fugitive. When he was caught again, he had a conversation with Carson, in which Carson said he had a lot of “nerve” in asking Carson to help him again.
The sixth overt act in the criminal complaint accuses Carson of inducing the Athwal brothers and Woody to arm themselves and watch his property, with the instruction of imprisoning and assaulting anyone caught trespassing.
Overt act number seven states Carson recruited Baljit Athwal and Woody to make threats against Kauffman, which according to the affidavit occurred within a day or two of Kauffman’s death.
The eighth overt act listed in the criminal complaint accuses Carson, Baljit Athwal, and Woody of conspiring to have Baljit Athwal’s truck stolen and burned to destroy evidence.
The ninth and tenth acts accuse Carson of urging his co-conspirators to file civil lawsuits against investigators to stop the investigation and that Carson filed false accusations in criminal cases to thwart the murder investigation.
The eleventh overt act accuses Carson of inducing Baljit Athwal and Woody to continue threatening Cooley. The time period is listed from May 24, 2012 to the present.
In the twelfth overt act, the district attorney accuses Quintanar, Wells and McFarlane of obstructing justice by “directing co-conspirators in investigative techniques used by law enforcement in an effort to thwart the investigation.”
Wells is also mentioned in the thirteenth overt act. He is accused of possessing Kauffman’s cell phone between March 30, 2012 and April 16, 2012 and that he “engaged in deceitful acts” to derail the investigation.
The fourteenth and fifteenth overt acts accuse the Athwal brothers of paying Woody to leave the area and also paying to fix his teeth. The criminal complaint alleges this was done to entice Woody to not cooperate with law enforcement.
The sixteenth act states Woody, the Athwal brothers, and Carson had an agreement that Carson would represent Woody if he was arrested.
The seventeenth act accuses Woody, and Baljit Athwal of hiding Kauffman’s body in a secluded area of Stanislaus National Forest.
In count three of the criminal complaint, the prosecution accuses Christina DeFilippo, Quintanar, and McFarlane of being accessories by helping the other defendants after the murder.
Count four of the criminal complaint accuses Carson of perjury.
The investigation into Kauffman’s death is detailed in a 326-page affidavit released by the sheriff’s department. Georgia DeFilippo’s attorney Tim Pori said it was the longest affidavit he had seen in his 18 years of practicing law and called it “a bad mystery novel that forgot to include a who done it.”
The arraignment was continued for Aug. 25.