A judge on Monday rescheduled a trial to start early next year for Modesto attorney Frank Carson and two others charged with murder in the death of Korey Kauffman.
Judge Barbara Zuinga gave Jai Gohel, Baljit Athwal’s recently-hired attorney, seven months to get up to speed in what she called a “convoluted” murder case.
Zuniga said the court transcript of the case so far, which includes an 18-month preliminary hearing, is 22,000 pages.
The trial had been scheduled to begin June 19 for Carson and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, owners of a Turlock convenience store who are accused of confronting Kauffman on Carson’s property before the man was shot.
It’s got to stop, judge. We need to begin as soon as possible.
Defense Attorney Robert Forkner
The judge on Monday afternoon rescheduled the trial to begin Jan. 8. Zuniga also scheduled the attorneys to begin their pretrial motions on Nov. 27, so the trial would be ready to start on time.
Prosecutors accuse Carson of being the ringleader of a criminal conspiracy to thwart thieves from repeatedly stealing antiques and scrap metal from his property on Ninth Street in Turlock. Kauffman, 26, went missing in spring 2012; his body was found more than a year later in Mariposa County.
The defense has said this is a case of wrongful prosecution by a vindictive Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office intent on ruining Carson, a prominent criminal defense attorney.
Robert Forkner, Carson’s attorney, objected to Gohel’s request, arguing that every day the trial is delayed harm’s his client’s defense. He told the judge that as times goes by, memories of witnesses fade.
He also said health problems for witnesses can also make them unavailable to testify at trial. For instance, one man who alleged a confrontation on Carson’s property has since died, Forkner said.
Authorities began investigating Kauffman’s disappearance and later his death for more than three years before Carson and his co-defendants were arrested. Carson has refused to waive his right to a speedy trial.
TRIAL DELAY UNACCEPTABLE
Forkner argued that a seven-month trial delay was unacceptable, and he asked the judge to at least reschedule the trial to begin within 90 days or allow Carson to stand trial sooner than his co-defendants.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira argued that Carson and his co-defendants should stand trial together, and that Gohel should be allowed to prepare adequately for trial.
Zuniga asked how a trial delay could harm Carson’s defense, considering the attorney remains free as he awaits trial. In late December, Zuniga abruptly released Carson, Atwal and Athwal on their own recognizance after prosecutors revealed they had located more evidence not handed over to the defense.
Forkner said the prosecution continues to produce new evidence in the case, handing the defense on Monday 51 computer discs with 1,200 pages of evidence that includes statements from an alleged murderer. He said the prosecution continues to offer witnesses “rewards as we speak.”
“They just keep manufacturing more witnesses,” Forkner said.
Forkner asked the judge to set cutoff date for all evidence to be used against the defendants at trial; a request the judge quickly denied. Zuniga said she will not order law enforcement to stop investigating.
“It’s got to stop, judge,” Forkner said. “We need to begin as soon as possible.”