A judge determined prosecutors in a preliminary hearing for a former California Highway Patrol officer accused of being an accessory in a murder failed to prove a homicide occurred in the death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman.
Judge Robert Moody on Monday granted defendant Scott McFarlane's motion, essentially overturning a ruling from Judge Barbara Zuniga, who ordered the former CHP officer to stand trial on the accessory charge. That meant the criminal case against McFarlane on Monday afternoon was over, and he was free to go, said his attorney Larry Niermeyer.
However, the case started all over again Tuesday morning, when the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office filed a new complaint against him. McFarlane's attorney says his client in the new criminal complaint faces the same charge he was accused of before.
"I think it's a real injustice to Mr. McFarlane; to put him and his family through another extended process," said Niermeyer of the Modesto law firm of Moorad, Clark and Stewart.
John Goold, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office, declined to respond to Niermeyer's comments. He did confirm that prosecutors on Tuesday filed a new criminal complaint against McFarlane with the identical accessory charge in Kauffman's death.
"We believe all appropriate evidence was presented during the preliminary hearing, and Judge Zuniga certainly had no problem holding Mr. McFarlane to answer for the charge," Goold said Tuesday. "Judge Moody, unfortunately, disagreed with Zuniga’s decision."
McFarlane was arrested in August 2015 along with prominent Modesto defense attorney Frank Carson and several others suspected of being involved in Kauffman's disappearance and death.
Authorities believe Korey Kauffman, 26, was shot to death in late March 2012 after he was caught trying to steal scrap metal from Carson’s Ninth Street property in Turlock. Kauffman’s remains were found in August 2013 in a remote area of the Stanislaus National Forest in Mariposa County.
McFarlane’s preliminary hearing was held separately from the record-breaking 18-month preliminary hearing for Carson and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal that resulted in court orders for the three defendants to stand trial.
Carson and his two co-defendants are currently standing trial on murder charges in Kauffman's death.
Carson's wife, Georgia DeFilippo, and her daughter, Christina DeFilippo, were initially accused in the alleged conspiracy in Kauffman's death and have since been cleared of any wrongdoing. They have filed a federal lawsuit against the District Attorney's Office and Stanislaus County and the cities of Modesto, Turlock and Ceres, seeking damages for what they call a malicious prosecution.
McFarlane and then CHP officer Eduardo Quintanar Jr. initially were both charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and being accessories in Kauffman’s death. Their employment with the CHP ended in fall 2015.
Zuniga, a visiting judge from Contra County assigned to the Kauffman case, on Oct. 24 ruled the prosecution did not present any evidence to indicate Quintanar committed any crimes and dropped the charges against him. Quintanar has since filed a claim against the county and the city of Modesto seeking damages, a likely precursor to a civil lawsuit.
Niermeyer said Zuniga dropped the obstruction charge against McFarlane, but the judge ordered the defendant to stand trial on the accessory charge. McFarlane and his attorney challenged Zuniga's ruling. Moody, a retired Monterey County judge, was assigned to hear McFarlane's motion.
Niermeyer said Moody determined the District Attorney's Office failed to present sufficient evidence in McFarlane's preliminary hearing to prove a homicide occurred. The defense attorney also said prosecutors failed to prove that Carson, Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal committed the alleged homicide. These are essential elements to prove and are the core of an accessory to murder charge, according to Niermeyer.
According to Goold, Judge Moody said in court that he was not granting the motion on grounds of "insufficiency of the evidence in general," but that an element in the case was missing.
After Moody's ruling Monday, McFarlane's criminal case ended. Niermeyer said the judge exonerated McFarlane's bail bond, and he was free to go.
"It was all over, except the DA's Office has the opportunity to refile (the charge)," Niermeyer said Tuesday. "What a nightmare to wake up to. You've gone through it all; the DA files a new complaint this morning."
After waiting for more than two years, McFarlane's criminal case will start from the beginning. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon in Stanislaus Superior Court.
Niermeyer said McFarlane and his family are forced to go through another preliminary hearing to determine whether there's enough evidence for him to stand trial. The defense attorney anticipates the judge will allow McFarlane to remain free on his own recognizance while awaiting prosecution.
"He's attended every hearing he's been required to attend. He's not a flight risk," Niermeyer said "He's discouraged by the justice system and how it has treated him."