The preliminary hearing for the six defendants accused of participating in the murder and cover-up of the death of 26-year-old Korey Kauffman resumed Tuesday, but testimony from the witnesses was put to the side as the court tried to resolve allegations of wrongdoing by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.
The defense attorneys in the case have accused the prosecution of witness tampering and misconduct after lead investigator Kirk Bunch spoke to a witness in between her two days of testimony.
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.
On March 30, 2012, Kauffman left the home of his friend Michael Cooley on Lander Avenue 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.
The prosecution had called Linda Burns to testify about her encounters with Frank Carson when she found him searching her car for stolen property. Burns is Cooley’s sister and was at the home the day Kauffman disappeared. She testified she had looked through a pair of binoculars and saw two older white males moving around on Carson’s property and that they appeared to be hiding.
The night after Burns’ first day of testimony, 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.
Bunch testified he was concerned for Burns’ well-being because she had told him she was fearful of Carson and she believed she was being followed. During the course of the investigation, Bunch said he learned Carson had received a tracking device from a private investigator.
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. 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.
The defense attorneys became suspicious about the conversation when on the witness stand Burns mentioned the irrigation pipes on Carson’s property. She had never mentioned anything about irrigation pipes in any of her previous interviews with investigators.
The day’s proceedings ended before Judge Barbara Zuniga could render a decision on the matter and whether or not Burns’ testimony will remain on the record or be stricken. The preliminary hearing will resume today.