The longest preliminary hearing in Stanislaus County history moved a step closer to a conclusion Thursday with the start of closing arguments.
Stanislaus County Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreria opened the people’s closing arguments with a review of some of the key witnesses who have testified during the 17-month long hearing.
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 murder for the death of Korey Kauffman. 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.
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.
According to the district attorney’s case, Carson and the eight others charged in connection with the murder, worked to hide the death from authorities and thwart any investigation.
Kauffman was last seen by Cooley on March 30, 2012 as he left the Lander Avenue home to go to a property on Ninth Street. The district attorney’s office claims Kauffman was headed to Carson’s property to take some irrigation pipes that had been left out as “bait” to catch the thieves.
Robert Lee Woody, who was the first to be arrested for Kauffman’s killing, has agreed to a plea deal and has testified for the prosecution. He remains in custody and is scheduled to be sentenced April 6. Woody will be sentenced to prison for seven years and four months, according to the district attorney’s office.
Woody was arrested in March 2014 and adamantly maintained his innocence until August 2015, when the other defendants were taken into custody.
The preliminary hearing is to determine if the defendants will move along to trial on the charges filed against them.
It’s expected the prosecution will not proceed with murder charges against Wells, but will seek charges on accessory and conspiracy.
If Judge Barbara Zuniga does hold all or some of the defendants over for trial, the prosecution will be facing some credibility issues regarding Woody, who has told various accounts of the killing.
Prior to his arrest, Woody was recorded by his girlfriend detailing his involvement in the case.
In the recorded conversation, Woody talks about the killing, stating in reference to Kauffman that “when he jumped over that f***ing fence that was his last jump.” He also states Kauffman was shot and claims he committed the killing on his own. He also states Kauffman was stealing from his lawyer. After a back and forth over the name of the lawyer Woody whispers “Carson” then says “Frank Carson. There it is.”
The recording also includes Woody describing disposing of a body by feeding it to pigs.
A few weeks after the recording was made Woody was arrested and charged with Kauffman’s murder. During an interview with investigators after his arrest Woody disavows many of the statements he made in the recording, including the statements that he killed Kauffman.
When the other defendants were arrested in August 2015, Woody sat down with investigators again and told them an account of what happened the night Kauffman was killed and it differed from what he said on the recording.
During his testimony, Woody stated that Baljit Athwal caught Kauffman on Carson’s property and that he was fighting with him when Woody and Daljit Atwal arrived at the Ninth Street property. Woody said Daljit Atwal joined in the fight and that the two were beating Kauffman, who was on the ground, trying to get away, “like a cat trying to get away from a dog.”
Woody stated he tried to break up the fight and when he was unsuccessful he turned to leave, which is when he heard a shot. When he turned back around Kauffman was dead.
Woody testified that he came up with the idea of moving the body and that he was helping the brothers “because he was involved in it at that point.”
Kauffman’s remains were wrapped in a tarp and buried in a shallow grave in a side yard next to the Pop N’ Cork on East Avenue, according to Woody. He also testified the toes and fingers were cut off and placed in a black bag that was buried with the body.
Woody testified that Baljit Athwal said they had to move the body after investigators came to the store asking about Kauffman’s disappearance. Woody said he dug up the remains and he and Baljit Athwal and Woody’s girlfriend (who is now deceased) put it in the back of Baljit Athwal’s truck and drove it to the mountains. Woody said he didn’t know at the time where they were headed. He stated Kauffman’s remains were left in an area away from a dirt road and that the fingers and toes were scattered around in the brush.
In August 2013 hunters in Stanislaus County Forest in Mariposa County found Kauffman’s skull. Later in the investigation Woody directed investigators to the spot where Kauffman’s remains were left.
Woody also testified he had a conversation with Carson, in which Carson asked him to do a favor and look into the thefts happening on his property, particularly in relation to Cooley. Woody stated Carson told him not to make any problems with Cooley because he (Carson) didn’t want to be under investigation.
Woody has admitted lying to investigators when he told them he saw Carson and Wells at the property around the time Kauffman was killed.
Recently Patrick Hampton told investigators that Woody has made claims to being the lone killer of Kauffman. The two men have been housed at the Tuolumne County Jail. Investigators said Woody denied making the claim to Hampton.
Hampton himself is a witness in the case. He sent a letter to a district attorney investigator in January 2015 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 filed initially with the case. Hampton said he was 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.” 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 hearing is scheduled to resume next week.