Frank Carson, the well-known defense attorney who went from one-time district attorney candidate to murder suspect before being acquitted of all charges, has died at the age of 66.
Carson suffered a medical emergency Friday while undergoing dialysis treatment and had been on life support until Wednesday when he was taken off it and passed that night.
Carson’s attorney J. Gary Gwilliam said an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death, but added the stress Carson was put under was the real culprit.
“He was under a great deal of stress and was worn down by all of it,” Gwilliam said.
Gwilliam was representing Carson, and now his estate, in a civil lawsuit against Stanislaus County, the district attorney’s office, cities and individuals in law enforcement in relation to the murder charges lodged against Carson in the death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman. The lawsuit claims Carson’s civil rights were violated and that he was the victim of a malicious and retaliatory prosecution, unlawful search and seizure, false imprisonment and false arrest among other allegations. Gwilliam said the case will also now include wrongful death.
Carson was born and raised in Modesto. He attended Lincoln Law School in Sacramento and was admitted to the State Bar in 1988. He began his career with the Stanislaus County Public Defender’s Office and established his private practice in 1996.
Over the years Carson became a formidable figure in the Stanislaus County courthouse with a folksy style of speaking to jurors, which sometimes belied his sharp legal knowledge. He won several high-profile cases, including his representation of former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino and bail bondsman A.J. Pontillo.
“He devoted his entire career to defending people,” Gwilliam said.
Carson made an unsuccessful run for Stanislaus County district attorney in 2014 and then in 2015 he, along with others including his wife and daughter, were arrested on allegations that they had participated in some fashion in the murder of Kauffman.
Kauffman disappeared at the end of March 2012 and his remains were found in the Stanislaus National Forest in August 2013. The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation, which led them to identify Carson as their primary suspect.
The prosecution built their case against Carson and the others on the claim that Carson was enraged over a series of thefts from his Turlock property and masterminded a plan to catch one of the thieves and send a message to all the others. Their case claimed Carson orchestrated a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the death of Kauffman and that thereafter the defendants worked to hide the death from authorities and thwart any investigation.
At the end of a lengthy preliminary hearing it was only Carson and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, who own the Pop N’ Cork stores in Turlock, that were ordered to stand trial on murder charges. The trial resulted in all three being found not guilty.
“Frank was 100 percent innocent,” Gwilliam said. “It was a vendetta case against him. We will continue to vindicate his name.”
Gwilliam said a memorial service will be held at some point, but the arrangements have not been finalized.