The defense attorneys representing the six defendants implicated in the death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman began making their arguments last week against the prosecution's case to hold them over for trial on murder and conspiracy charges.
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 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. In August 2013 hunters in the Stanislaus County Forest found Kauffman's skull and eventually the rest of his remains were located in the area.
According to the district attorney, 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 DA claims Kauffman was headed to Carson's property to take some irrigation pipes that had been left out as "bait" to catch the thieves.
The preliminary hearing is to determine if the defendants will move along to trial on the charges filed against them.
The defense's main argument against the case is that it has been built on the word of witnesses they believe are completely uncreditable.
"The core prosecution witnesses on which the prosecution relies to prove motive, intent, planning, lying in wait, conspiracy and homicide are universally felons, thieves and users of methamphetamine and often heroin as well," Carson's defense attorney Percy Martinez stated in his filed brief against the holding order.
At the heart of their collective disbelief is Robert Lee Woody. Woody was the first to be arrested for Kauffman's killing in March 2014. After maintaining his innocence for some time, Woody changed his mind and 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.
The defense attorneys have argued that Woody has told so many variations of what happened that to believe one version would be a "miscarriage of justice," said Georgia DeFilippo's attorney Jesse Garcia.
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 and Daljit Atwal was holding a gun.
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."
Woody has admitted lying to investigators when he told them he saw Carson and Wells at the property around the time Kauffman was killed. Martinez claimed that was not Woody's only lie. He pointed to the various versions Woody has told, which have ranged from: claiming his innocence and complete lack of involvement; claiming he did it on his own; knowing the brothers did it, but without his assistance; the brothers and the former CHP officers being responsible; the brothers, Carson, and Wells doing it; and helping the brothers after they did.
"Those inconsistent, myriad and of late self-serving accounts must be viewed with suspicion," Martinez said. "Those statements by a self-admitted drug addict and serial car thief are so inconsistent, outlandish and contradictory so as to be fatally untrustworthy."
Garcia argued that Woody's version delivered to the court was obtained only after he was "spoon-fed the facts."
Recently Patrick Hampton, another witness in the case, 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.
It's not just the witnesses that the defense finds uncreditable - it's the entire theory of the case and even the basic supposition that all the defendants knew one another.
Martinez said there is no evidence that Carson, his wife and his step-daughter ever knew Wells, Quintanar and McFarlane before being arrested. He also said there is no evidence the two women ever knew either Baljit Athwal or Daljit Atwal or Woody.
"The dual role investigators/prosecutors involved have woven a mosaic of disconnected facts or suspicions into a conspiracy of great breadth and little, if any depth," Martinez said. "The persons charged are for the most part disconnected and unknown to each other or their respective supposed roles."
Closing arguments are expected to conclude next week and the matter will be given to Judge Barbara Zuniga to decide.