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March 18, 2014

Potential links to Stanislaus County courthouse grow in Kauffman homicide case

A Stanislaus County judge on Tuesday said he would remove himself from a homicide case if three other people are charged with being co-conspirators in the death of a Turlock man.

A Stanislaus County judge on Tuesday said he would remove himself from a homicide case if three other people are charged with being co-conspirators in the death of a Turlock man.

Robert Lee Woody is accused of murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the death of Korey Kauffman, a 26-year-old man who went missing in late March 2012. His body was discovered by hunters in an isolated area of Mariposa County in August.

Woody has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains the only person charged or identified as a suspect in Kauffman’s death. The defendant appeared in court Tuesday morning for the judge to appoint his defense attorney.

Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova didn’t say why he would recuse himself from Woody’s case, but he did say that the rest of the judges in the courthouse likely would recuse themselves if the three other people are charged. That could be an indication that the three people have some connection to the courthouse or people who work there.

The seven-month, five-agency investigation into Kauffman’s death has resulted in the arrest of Praveen Singh, a Modesto bail agent, on unrelated charges. Singh has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted shooting at an occupied home and soliciting the commission of a shooting and a robbery.

Frank Carson, a prominent Modesto criminal defense attorney and candidate for Stanislaus County district attorney, has been listed as a potential witness in the bail agent’s criminal case.

During two brief interviews with The Modesto Bee on Monday, Carson confirmed that his Ninth Street property in Turlock was searched in 2012, but he said “there was absolutely no wrongdoing.” Authorities have not confirmed that the search was related to the Kauffman investigation, but detectives earlier said the victim was headed to a property on Ninth Street when he went missing.

“This is a political fight, and I welcome a political fight. It’s absurd and stupid,” Carson said.

For three months, officials involved in the investigation have refused to say whether Carson is a suspect in Kauffman’s death. The District Attorney’s Office says it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending case.

“This is all politics,” Carson said. “There is no coincidence that I am in the middle of this battle.”

Investigators searched Carson’s property a year before he announced his bid to unseat District Attorney Birgit Fladager, who is running for re-election in June.

Carson ended both telephone interviews abruptly, saying he was driving and would return the call later. He stopped answering or returning phone calls from The Bee on Monday evening.

A criminal complaint against Woody filed in court March 4 does not identify the three other people, listing them only as co-conspirators B, C and D.

The complaint indicates that co-conspirators B and D agreed to help co-conspirator C. The document also indicates Woody and co-conspirator B threatened a witness on behalf of co-conspirator C on May 24, 2012, about two months after Kauffman went missing.

Co-conspirators B and D paid for Woody to leave the county so he wouldn’t be a witness or a suspect in the Kauffman investigation, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors say Woody obtained an agreement from his co-conspirators that they would bail him out of jail if he was arrested and that co-conspirator C would provide him legal representation. The complaint indicates that Woody was offered this agreement to persuade him not to cooperate with law enforcement officials.

Carson represented Woody in a case filed in January 2012, when Woody was accused of receiving stolen property. The only charge against him in that case was eventually dropped.

In the current case, the court appointed defense attorney Robert Orenstein to represent Woody after the Public Defender’s Office said it couldn’t represent the defendant. Tuesday, Orenstein told the judge that his firm could not defend Woody because it had received confidential information from a potential witness in Woody’s case.

Córdova then appointed defense attorney Bruce Perry to represent Woody. Perry told the judge his firm didn’t appear to have any conflicts that would prevent him from doing so.

The judge scheduled the defendant to return to court April 10 for another pretrial hearing.

Woody remains in custody at an undisclosed jail facility because prosecutors want to ensure his safety. He wore an orange-and-white Stanislaus County Jail inmate jumpsuit Tuesday morning, but he is not listed in the jail’s custody records.

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