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April 24, 2014

DA hasn’t decided on seeking the death penalty in Stanislaus County murder case

The man accused of killing Korey Kauffman appeared briefly in court Thursday; the District Attorney still hasn’t decided what punishment to pursue against him.

The man accused of killing Korey Kauffman appeared briefly in court Thursday; the district attorney still hasn’t decided what punishment to pursue against him.

Robert Woody, 38, of Turlock is charged with murder and criminal conspiracy. A special circumstance for lying in wait to allegedly commit the murder makes the case eligible for the death penalty, but Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris said prosecutors have not made a decision in that respect.

His pretrial hearing was postponed until May 15, so Harris and defense attorney Bruce Perry can continue to gather and review discovery evidence in the case.

Three alleged co-conspirators are listed in the criminal complaint, but the District Attorney’s Office does not identify those people in the court document and has refused to name them publicly.

Criminal defense attorney Frank Carson and Pop-n-Cork liquor store owners Daljit and Baljit Athwal have received the attention of law enforcement officials investigating Kauffman’s death, but they have not been charged with any crimes.

The Athwal brothers’ homes and businesses have been searched twice, and they say they have been questioned repeatedly about Kauffman and Carson. The defense attorney’s Ninth Street property in Turlock also was searched in connection with the case.

Kauffman, a scrap metal recycler, was last seen headed toward a property on Ninth Street in March 2012, according to authorities. Kauffman’s family has said he might have been planning to steal something.

Detectives who interviewed Baljit Athwal at his store after Woody’s arrest told him Woody gave a statement to detectives suggesting he “beat up” Kauffman on Carson’s property. Athwal recorded the interview at the advice of a private investigator he hired from, a Florida-based organization that investigates law enforcement agencies.

The brothers and Carson have denied any culpability for the death of Kauffman, whose body was found in the Stanislaus National Forest in August, a year and a half after his disappearance.

During the recorded interview at Baljit Athwal’s store, Modesto Police Detective Jon Evers and District Attorney Investigator Kirk Bunch asked him if he had ever been to the Stanislaus National Forest in a light-colored pickup. He said he hadn’t.

They proceeded to inquire more about the pickup in question, a silver Chevrolet Silverado that Baljit Athwal reported stolen from his Ceres home.

The Chevy pickup was reported stolen April 27, 2012, a month after Kauffman was last seen. It was found abandoned and burned in an almond orchard in Merced County, according to Ceres police and the California Highway Patrol.

The Athwals have staged numerous protests, and their private investigator, Diop Kamau, is filing complaints against investigators, including Bunch, for harassment.

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