Any idea that the defense in the Korey Kauffman murder trial would present a united front came to an end Tuesday morning before the preliminary hearing even began.
Judge Barbara Zuniga granted a continuance on the preliminary hearing for California Highway Patrol Officers Scott McFarlane and Eduardo Quintanar, but when defense attorneys Martha Carlton-Magana and Tim Rien both requested continuances for their clients, Baljit Athwal and Walter Wells, respectively, Zuniga denied the motions and ordered the preliminary hearing to start as scheduled.
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 Kauffman, the district attorney has accused Carson's wife, Georgia DeFilippo, Turlock brothers and Pop N’ Cork owners Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, and Wells with murder. McFarlane, Quintanar, and Christina DeFilippo have all been charged with being accessories after the fact and conspiracy.
The criminal complaint filed in the case lists 17 overt acts of conspiracy, according to the district attorney’s office.
The district attorney’s office has also accused Robert Lee Woody of murder and conspiracy for Kauffman’s death.
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.
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 motion to continue McFarlane and Quintanar’s preliminary hearing was decided before the courtroom was open to the public, but the matter was brought up again when Carlton-Magana lodged her request again for a continuance just as the day’s proceedings got underway.
“I thought Mr. Quintanar and Mr. McFarlane would be part of this hearing,” Carlton-Magana said. “I’m not prepared to go forward with the hearing without these two men as part of the defense. It feels like there is something in the works here with the prosecution.”
Rien also requested a continuance be issued for his client because he had been given new discovery of cell phone records from the district attorney’s office the week before. He said the case against Wells was largely based on those records and he felt he had not been given adequate time to review them and prepare.
Carson’s attorney, Percy Martinez, along with Georgia DeFilippo’s new attorney Jesse Garcia, and Christina DeFilippo’s attorney Robert Forkner, all told the judge that they were ready and expecting to start the hearing as scheduled.
The preliminary hearing had initially been calendared just for McFarlane and Quintanar, who had both refused to waive time. The other defendants were in the midst of a hearing to have the district attorney’s office recused from prosecuting the case when they decided to table that motion for the time being and join the scheduled preliminary hearing.
Zuniga made mention of this and said all the attorneys had agreed to start the preliminary hearing on Tuesday. She also said it was the court’s understanding that the defense, with the exception of Wells, McFarlane, and Quintanar, would be presenting a joint defense in some part, so why the continuance of McFarlane and Quintanar would cause a problem, was a “mystery to the court.”
The notion of a joint defense was met with a resounding rejection by all the defense attorneys, except Rien.
“The court is spot on in that Mr. Wells has nothing to do with any of these people,” Rien said.
Zuniga ruled the preliminary hearing would begin as scheduled for the six other defendants. The matter seemed finished until Garcia objected to Quintanar and his attorney Alonzo Gradford sitting at the defense table if they were not going to be participating in the hearing.
Zuniga granted his request to have the men move, but in doing so she remarked it was a “pretty petty request.”
With the matter finally resolved, Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira called Ceres Police Detective Arthur Hively as the prosecution’s first witness. Hively is certified in forensic data analysis and was tasked with examining Christina DeFilippo’s computer. The computer was seized in July 2012, during the execution of a search warrant at the Ninth Street property in Turlock. In addition, Christina DeFilippo’s iPhone had been backed up on the computer, so Hively had to go through more than 10,000 text messages. The back up only went up to Feb. 24, 2012, more than a month before Kauffman was reported missing.
The prosecution says the text messages between Christina DeFillipo and her mother, Georgia DeFilippo and that of her sister, go towards proving the state of minds for the mother and daughter as they dealt with repeated thefts on the property. The prosecution stated it was this frustration that led the defendants to take “active measures to engage and catch people involved in the thefts” on the property, but that no mention was ever made about turning them over to law enforcement.
“The texts depict the escalation of their frustration,” Ferreira said. She also said the texts provide evidence of Carson armed with a gun and lying in wait on the property.
Forkner argued the texts should not be considered as evidence because they were not relevant to the charge against Christina DeFilippo for being an accessory after the fact and only served to malign her character.
Zuniga said she will hear the text messages and then decide if they are relevant to the case or not.
Hively testified he found a text between the mother and daughter from February 2011 that stated Carson would be on the property that night and that he would be “packing a gun.”
Another text from that same time showed Georgia DeFilippo asking her daughter to put on some dark clothing and slip outside to see if she could catch the thieves in the act.
In May 20111, Carson had a motion detector installed on the property and Christina DeFilippo was instructed to call her mother or Carson whenever it was activated. It was a request that proved to become a point of contention between the mother and daughter. In several texts Georgia DeFilippo chides her daughter for not alerting them to the motion detector going off, while Chrisitna DeFilippo argues back that she attempted to contact them, but that no one answered her calls.
Hively testified that he did an Internet search on Christina DeFilippo’s computer and using the key words of Korey Kauffman, found that his Facebook page had been viewed on May 6, 2012.
Forkner’s questioning pointed out that this was on or about the same day that Kauffman’s family had been to the home with a flyer of the missing man.
Forkner also questioned whether Hively found any texts in which Christina DeFilippo advises Carson or her mother on how to not be arrested, or if she ever sent a text saying the police should not be called if a thief was caught. Hively responded that he didn’t find any texts to that nature during the time frame that he examined. On re-direct, Ferreira pointed out that the texts were all prior to Kauffman going missing.
Hively also testified that he had been instructed to take a screenshot of Christina DeFilippo’s Twitter account back from March 29, 2012. In the tweet, Christina DeFilippo writes that she is angry that the caretaker Carson had hired had come into her house without her permission and that he was involved in some sort of “preparation.” Under cross-examination by Carlton-Magana, Hively said the screenshot had been lost.
The preliminary hearing is expected to take between four to six weeks. Testimony will resume today.