Thursday morning the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office was ready to defend their ability to fairly prosecute the case against Frank Carson and the seven defendants arrested with him in connection to the murder of 26-year-old Korey Kauffman. By Thursday afternoon the matter had been issued a continuance with very little progress having been made on the matter, but the defendants were finally arraigned on the charges against them.
Thursday's proceeding was another hearing in connection with the death of Kauffman. The Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office alleges Carson orchestrated a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the death of the Turlock man on March 31, 2012, and that thereafter the defendants worked to hide the death from authorities and thwart any investigation. Carson, along with his wife Georgia DeFilippo, Pop N Cork owners and Ceres brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, former California Highway Patrol officer Walter Wells, and Turlock resident Robert Lee Woody are all charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy for Kauffman's death. Carson also faces a charge of perjury. Christina DeFilippo and CHP officers Eduardo Quintanar and Scott McFarlane are facing charges of conspiracy and being accessories in the death and cover-up. Everyone but Woody was taken into custody on Aug. 14. Woody was arrested in March of 2014 and as of now his case is being tried separately.
The arraignment of the defendants charged with murder had been continued on several occasions, as the defense attorneys planned to challenge the criminal complaint lodged against them and the Ramey warrant used to justify the arrests. On Thursday the challenge was put aside and Carson, Georgia DeFilippo, Baljit Athwal, Daljit Atwal, and Wells all entered not guilty pleas.
Christine DeFilippo, McFarlane, and Quintanar all have entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them. A preliminary hearing has been calendared for McFarlane and Quintanar and now all the other defendants, except Woody, will be joining those proceedings.
The preliminary hearing, which is set for Tuesday, Oct. 13, will be held to determine if the prosecution has enough cause to hold the defendants over for trial on the charges lodged against them.
The day was not without drama, as Carson's co-counsel, Steve Schmid was escorted from the courthouse before the proceedings as he tried placing an investigator under citizen's arrest. The ouster stemmed from Schmid trying to order District Attorney investigator Steven Jacobson to remove his firearm while in court. The demand was a rehash of an issue that had arisen at a previous court hearing and had seemingly been ruled upon by Judge Barbara Zuniga.
On Sept. 25, Schmid told the court that Carson and Jacobson had a long-standing adversarial relationship and that Carson did not feel safe being in the same courtroom with him, while he was armed. Zuniga ruled that Jacobson was a peace officer and therefore had a right to be armed while in court.
As people were coming into the courtroom for the start of the day's proceedings, Schmid stood before Jacobson and demanded he remove his firearm. He then yelled out that he was placing Jacobson under citizen's arrest and demanded the assistance of the bailiffs in the courtroom. The bailiffs told Schmid they would not place the investigator under arrest and instructed him to sit down.
The confrontation continued and the bailiffs removed Schmid from the courthouse. He was escorted from the premises and had to wait in the parking lot until the judge could hear about the matter and decide if he would be let back in.
Carson's attorney Percy Martinez told the judge that Schmid was an integral part of the motion to have the District Attorney's office recused from prosecuting the case.
"If he's not brought back in, we are not ready to proceed," said Martinez.
Martinez told the judge that not having Schmid present was a violation of Carson's right to counsel and argued that there was no reason for the attorney to have been escorted out. He also stated the bailiffs had overstepped their authority by claiming the ouster was at the order of the judge.
Zuniga said she didn't know what was said to Schmid by the deputies, but that when "emotions are running high people sometimes hear what they want to hear."
Zuniga ruled that Schmid was acting beyond his abilities as a citizen and that the penal code he cited only applied to a peace officer that has a matter before the court, such as one that is a defendant in a case.
Zuniga did allow Schmid to return to the proceedings.
Several of the defense attorneys are seeking to have the District Attorney's Office recused from prosecuting the case on the grounds that they have an ongoing feud with Carson, and as such would not proceed with the case in a fair and evenhanded manner.
Georgia DeFilippo's attorney Tim Pori filed the motion and stated in it that the District Attorney's Office is carrying a vendetta against Carson because he has won several high-profile cases against them, has filed lawsuits against their investigators, accused investigators and an attorney of jury tampering, and publically called out the office for corruption during his bid to be elected district attorney.
"There is a serious conflict of interest between the office of the District Attorney and Ms. DeFilippo, where the district attorney's personal entanglement with her husband, prominent local attorney Frank Carson, makes it impossible that she will be treated fairly at any stage of this proceeding by any prosecutor employed by that Office," Pori wrote in his motion.
The motion was joined by all the other defense attorney's except McFarlane's.
The district attorney's office filed a response to Pori's motion, arguing "nowhere has defense counsel provided evidence of actual antagonism on the part of the district attorney's office."
The response from the District Attorney's Office states the defense's argument boils down to the district attorney disliking Carson and as such the prosecution would not go forward with the case in an evenhanded matter. Ultimately, the District Attorney's Office called the contentions put forth "without merit."
On Thursday two representatives from the California Attorney General's Office has joined the prosecution to argue against the recusal, but before any testimony could be given in the matter, Zuniga said the court had to rule on the "numerous" evidentiary points raised in the motion.
The court had only gotten through two of the points by the lunch break. When the matter resumed there was a request for a continuance on the matter, which the judge granted.