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Two gumshoes, two stories
Private investigators offer differing testimony in Carson case
carson trial2
Frank Carson, along with brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, is on trial for the murder of Korey Kauffman in 2012. The case has already set a record for the longest preliminary hearing in Stanislaus County at 18 months. - photo by Journal file photo

Tuesday’s proceedings in the trial of Frank Carson, Baljit Athwal, and Daljit Atwal for the death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman brought the jury the case of dueling detectives, with two private investigators giving completely contradictory testimony over tracking devices.

According to the prosecution, the tracking devices were used by Carson as he undertook his own investigation into the ongoing thefts that had been happening at his Turlock property. The defense contends Carson was studying the tracker in his role as a defense attorney in a criminal case.

The first private investigator to take the witness stand was Steve Duden from Spy My Heart Investigations. Duden testified that he had given Carson a tracking device, but that it was not done as a normal part of his business, in that he didn’t have a contract with Carson for the use of the device. He said that as “a matter of protocol” he set up a perimeter around Carson’s downtown Modesto office, which would notify him if the tracking device ever left that area, but that no notification was ever recorded. He also testified he never told Carson he was setting up the perimeter on the device.

Duden has done investigative work for Carson on criminal cases but denied that he ever helped Carson investigate the thefts that were happening on his property. He also denied ever telling anyone that he was helping Carson investigate the thefts, a statement that was refuted by the next witness to take the stand.

Ali Hayes, formerly Ali Hodson, is a private investigator with Hodson and Hodson Investigations and she testified Tuesday that Duden told her he was working for Carson to try and catch the people who had been stealing from his Ninth Street property in Turlock. Hodson also testified that Duden showed her a series of pictures on his phone that were believed to be associated with the thefts and let her know that he had put a GPS device on one of the vehicles at the bequest of Carson.

In California it is a misdemeanor offense to put a tracking device on a vehicle with the intent of determining the movement or location of a person without getting the prior consent of the vehicle’s owner, unless it’s an operation conducted by law enforcement.

Hodson testified that she told Duden it was illegal and that she didn’t want to know any more about his investigation.

The two private investigators have been competitors since 2011 and are not particularly fond of one another, at least according to Hodson.

“I didn’t care for him as a person,” Hodson said when questioned about their relationship by Carson’s defense attorney Percy Martinez. “He wasn’t that bright.”

Duden and Hodson came to be acquainted with one another in 2009 when Hodson operated a bail bond company and Duden brought in Frank Drumond to get bail after being arrested on allegations he sexually molested two minors. Drumond had been a police officer in Modesto and Patterson and was teaching criminal justice courses at Modesto Junior College at the time of his arrest.

The defense claims that the Drumond case soured the two private investigators on one another and gave Hodson a motive for wanting to discredit Duden.

Initially when Drumond was arrested he retained the legal services of Mark Sullivan, who hired Duden to be his investigator. As the case progressed, Sullivan replaced Duden with Hodson’s husband John Hodson. Later, Drumond was being represented by Carson, who fired Hodson over a fee dispute and rehired Duden.

“They [the Hodsons] didn’t like the fact that Mr. Duden took over the case,” Martinez said.

The case against Drumond was declared a mistrial after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict, with the majority voting to acquit him of the charges. A retrial never happened and the charges were dropped by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office after they stated the alleged victims no longer wanted to pursue the case.

The victory for Carson in the high-profile case is one reason why he now finds himself the target of a criminal prosecution, according to his defense team. They have proffered the theory that the district attorney’s office is exacting revenge against Carson for winning several high-profile cases and for running to be the district attorney in 2012.

Carson and the two brothers, who own the Pop N’ Cork stores in Turlock, have been accused of murder for Kauffman’s death in 2012. 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 neighbor Michael Cooley. The prosecution contends Carson set into motion a series of events that led to the two brothers confronting Kauffman on Carson’s property and fatally shooting him.

The trial will continue Wednesday with further testimony from Hodson.

The case has already set a record for the longest preliminary hearing in Stanislaus County at 18 months and has seen an assortment of ancillary issues arise, including two current civil lawsuits. Friday, the oddities continued when a spectator was asked to leave the courtroom. One-time Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino, who has been a vocal supporter of Carson, wrote on his Facebook page that he had been asked to leave the courtroom by Judge Barbara Zuniga and that no explanation was given at the time. On Tuesday, a possible explanation was raised when an alternate juror stated he had gotten a friend request from Sabatino on Facebook. The juror said he did not know Sabatino and did not accept the friend request. He also said it would not influence him during the deliberations.