Robert Lee Woody, the lone man to put himself at the scene of Korey Kauffman’s murder, began his testimony this week in the preliminary hearing for six of the defendants charged in Kauffman’s death.
Woody was the first person to be arrested and charged with Kauffman’s murder. He has agreed to a plea deal that has seen him enter a no contest plea to charges of voluntary manslaughter, conspiracy to obstruct justice and arson. He has also agreed to testify for the prosecution in the case against the remaining defendants.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office has charged defense attorney Frank Carson, 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. Former 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. All of the remaining defendants have entered not guilty pleas.
The district attorney’s office’s case against Carson is built on an ongoing feud Carson and his neighbor Michael Cooley were having over stolen property. Carson suspected Cooley of stealing the property, or allowing others access to Carson’s property in the 800 block of Ninth Street. Cooley at the time was living at a house on Lander Avenue that abutted Carson’s.
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.
Woody has 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 testified that the day after the remains were left in the forest he took Baljit Athwal’s truck and drove it to a remote spot and set it on fire. He also said rags used to mop up Kauffman’s blood were burned as well. Woody said Baljit Athwal recorded a video of the truck burning and planned to use the insurance money to pay off credit card debt. Baljit Athwal reported the vehicle stolen.
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.
At one point Woody said he was approached at the store by men who said they were investigators from Carson’s office and wanted to talk to him. But the interview never happened because the men did a few shots of alcohol and then law enforcement arrived at the store and Woody was told by the brothers to leave.
While Woody is a key witness to the prosecution’s case, he is also problematic for them. Over the course of the investigation he told different stories about Kauffman’s death and his involvement and the defense team seeks to capitalize on this.
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 the body by feeding it to pigs.
Martha Carlton-Magana, who is representing Baljit Athwal, argued that it was investigators who first insisted Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal were involved in the murder and that Woody ran with their idea.
“The only thing he has been consistent in is what the officers wanted him to agree to,” said Carson’s defense attorney Percy Martinez.
Woody is expected to continue his testimony through the week.