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April 10, 2014

Murder suspect Woody back in court, but hearing continued

Murder suspect Robert Lee Woody made a brief appearance for a pretrial hearing Thursday, but the hearing was continued to later this month. Woody is the sole person charged in the death of Turlock’s Korey Kauffman.

Murder suspect Robert Lee Woody made a brief appearance for a pretrial hearing Thursday, winking and smiling at family seated in the audience as he walked into the courtroom in an orange striped jumpsuit.

The hearing was continued to later this month and prosecutor Dave Harris told the judge that the District Attorney’s Office has not made a decision about the penalty that will be pursued against the defendant.

Woody is the sole person charged with murder in the death of Korey Kauffman, a Turlock man whose body was found in an isolated area of Mariposa County in August more than a year after he went missing. However, three unnamed co-defendants are listed on the criminal complaint against Woody.

District Attorney’s Office investigator Kirk Bunch discussed the case briefly Wednesday night while accepting an award for DA criminal investigator of the year at the American Legion Post 74 Public Safety Awards.

He is one of the lead investigators on a task force that comprises the Modesto, Turlock and Ceres police departments, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Corrections and the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.

“The task force has interviewed hundreds of witnesses that led detectives and investigators to prevent and uncover a multitude of serious crimes in our community that have resulted in several arrests, and several additional arrests will be coming,” Bunch said during his speech. “This investigation is far from being the routine murder investigation, with the suspects vigorously obstructing and misdirecting the investigation since 2012. If it was not for this small multi-agency task force, there might have not been any justice for the victim, Korey Kauffman.”

Modesto bail agent Praveen Singh, who was named in court documents as a person of interest in Kauffman’s death, was arrested in December on unrelated charges of soliciting criminal acts.

Brothers who own Pop-N-Cork Liquors in Turlock, Baljit and Daljit Athwal, said they have been questioned and their homes and businesses searched multiple times in connection to Kauffman’s death. Prominent defense attorney and district attorney candidate Frank Carson said his property was searched in 2012.

The Athwal brothers and Carson have denied any involvement in the Kauffman case but have pursued different approaches publicly on the matter.

Carson hired an attorney, who advised him not to speak with the media. Attorney Percy Martinez said Carson wants to talk publicly because he wants to clear his name, which frequently has been brought up by investigators questioning witnesses and suspects in the Kauffman case. However, Martinez said that in speaking publicly, Carson could run the risk of violating attorney-client privilege because he has represented people involved in the criminal case.

The Athwal brothers have been very public about their police contact. They have staged multiple protests and solicited help from federal and state police agencies and politicians to launch an investigation of the practices of the District Attorney’s Office.

Bunch declined to comment further about pending arrests in the case so as not to compromise the investigation. He asks that anyone with information about Kauffman’s death call him at (209) 652-1673 or Modesto police Detective Jon Evers at (209) 652-1995.

Tips can be given anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward. Tipsters can text information to Crime Stoppers at 274637; type TIP704 along with the message.

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