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This is one murder trial that will be rich in news value
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It wouldn't surprise me, in this age of voter apathy and pathetic voter turnout - 16 percent showed up for last week's election - if Stanislaus County voters were unaware that one candidate for local office is a subject in a murder investigation: defense attorney Frank Carson.

Frank Carson, a Turlock resident, ran against Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager in the June 3 primary election and was soundly defeated. Fladager captured 70.07 percent of the vote over Carson's 29.6 percent).

Carson makes a living defending people in cases brought against them by the district attorney's office. But it seems Carson may be needing a good attorney in Superior Court soon. If he is implicated in the murder of a Turlock man, this case has all the makings of a huge local case and another reason for NBC-TV's Keith Morrison to book airline tickets back to Stanislaus County for another Dateline segment. (Morrison was here years ago to shoot a piece on Doug Porter, the Hickman pastor who was convicted of murdering his 85-year-old friend Frank Craig to gain access to his small fortune.)

Authorities aren't saying how Korey Kauffman died. But by piecing things together we have a picture of what likely happened.

Kauffman was little more than a recycler who allegedly pilfered metal to sell as scrap to make money. His friend, Mike Cooley, last saw him on March 29, 2012 before Kauffman entered a property to "check on" some metal; in other words, to engage in a little unauthorized recycling of someone else's property. On that night, Kauffman was at Cooley's home in the 1300 block of Lander Avenue in Turlock. The back of Cooley's property backs up to Carson's Ninth Street property. Cooley admits that he and Kauffman were thinking of sneaking onto Carson's property to steal some irrigation pipes that had been put out. Cooley chickened out when he spotted some men on Carson's land. "I saw people there and decided not to go," Cooley told Sabra Stafford of our sister, the Turlock Journal. "It just gave me a bad feeling and I told Korey not to go either."

Cooley theorizes Kauffman decided to go ahead with the theft and that he got caught and killed for the attempt.

Kauffman was never seen alive from that point on. His body turned up last August in the Stanislaus National Forest when hunters accidentally stumbled onto his remains.

A criminal complaint issued by the District Attorney's office alleges that Robert Lee Woody killed Kauffman sometime around or on March 30. Woody has an extensive criminal background with convictions of possessing a switch blade knife, possession of a controlled substance, and auto theft peppering his record dating back to the mid 1990s. It also carries a special allegation that Woody lied in wait to kill Kauffman.

He is also charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice. The conspiracy charge stems from the three co-conspirators Woody is alleged to have had, according to the criminal complaint filed against him. We now know that the three co-conspirators are Baljit and Daljit Atwal and Frank Carson.

To keep this straight, B stands for Baljit Atwal, C stands for Frank Carson and D represents Daljit Atwal. The criminal complaint states co-conspirators B and D agreed to help co-conspirator C. The criminal complaint states that on May 24, 2012, Woody and co-conspirator B went and threatened a witness on behalf of co-conspirator C.

Additionally, co-conspirators B and D are accused of paying for Woody to "leave the jurisdiction so as not to be a witness/suspect."

The criminal complaint claims Woody had an agreement with all three co-conspirators that they would bail him out and "C (Carson) would provide him with legal representation if defendant (Woody) were arrested so as to induce defendant not to cooperate with law enforcement."

Cooley claims he is the witness who was threatened by Woody and co-conspirator B. Cooley said he came out of his home to find Woody and Baljit Atwal parked in a car in front of his home. Cooley, told the Journal, was approached by the men and "told me I had better mind my own business and quit looking into things that didn't concern me."

We know that authorities served a search warrant after the disappearance of Kauffman to check out Carson's 1.5-acre property for evidence. It's believed that the murder took place on or near Carson's parcel.

Long before Kauffman was murdered, there were allegations of theft - the basis of an ongoing dispute between Cooley and Carson. On at least three occasions dating back to Feb. 6, 2011, Turlock police were called about allegations of theft of neighbor on neighbor. No arrests were ever made.

Curiously, on Jan. 2, 2012, someone called Turlock police about a suspicious man sitting in a car parked in the 100 block of Montana, which is directly diagonal from where Cooley resided. Carson was the man in the car.

Another interesting element in all this is that brothers Baljit and Daljit Atwal own and operate Pop-N-Cork stores in Turlock. Their Ceres homes were searched. Little wonder why the brothers posted large "RECALL BIRGIT FLADAGER" signs outside their Pop-N-Cork liquor stores. The signs were misleading because Fladager was not the subject of a recall election but I understand what the signs implied: Replace the prosecutor with their friend Carson who is allegedly involved in the whole ball of wax.

For the record, the Atwals deny ever threatening Cooley and deny their involvement.

Carson has hired his own attorney and although said he would issue a statement to the Journal, he has not done so - not even as a candidate for D.A.

We do know one thing: A man was murdered in Turlock and his body was ditched in a remote forest. Two Turlock businessmen and a prominent defense attorney are involved.

Some have wondered why the district attorney is taking so long to proceed with the case. Flagader has suggested that investigations take time but insiders suggest that the case was delayed until after the election so as to not appear to be politically motivated.

Now the election is over. This has all the makings of one of the most interesting criminal cases in Stanislaus County history.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at