Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira on Tuesday said the prosecution’s key witness provided the vital information on the shooting death of Korey Kauffman on Frank Carson’s property in Turlock.
“This is the witness that tells you why you should convict,” Ferreira said of Robert Lee Woody.
Carson, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Modesto, and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal are accused of murder in Kauffman’s death. Kauffman, 26, of Turlock disappeared in spring 2012. His remains were found more than a year later in a remote area of the Stanislaus National Forest in Mariposa County.
Woody testified in the trial that Kauffman was shot to death during a confrontation with the brothers. Baljit Athwal is known to friends as “Bobby” and Daljit Atwal is known as “Dee.” The siblings’ last names have slightly different spellings.
Woody had worked for about nine years for the brothers at their convenience store, Pop-N-Cork, on East Avenue in Turlock. Woody testified that he and Dee left the store in the late hours of March 30, 2012. He said they headed to Carson’s property; Bobby was already there.
They entered the property and spotted Bobby in a struggle with Kauffman, according to Woody. Dee joined the scuffle, Woody has testified, before he saw both brothers slugging Kauffman with their hands and feet. The prosecutor said Kauffman was on the ground trying to fend off what she called a “brutal” attack.
“He was trapped like a cornered cat,” Ferreira said, referring to Woody’s testimony. “Trapped by two dogs he described as Bobby and Dee Atwal.”
Woody testified that he was disgusted and turned to leave, when he heard a gunshot. He has said that only Dee was armed with a gun that night. He said Kauffman didn’t have any weapons.
“He sees Korey Kauffman on the ground not moving, lifeless, and Bobby and Dee standing by him,” the prosecutor said.
The defense has challenged the credibility of Woody, who once claimed that he killed Kauffman and fed his remains to pigs. Woody, who initially was the only one charged with Kauffman’s murder, received a plea deal and will be formally sentenced to seven years and four months in prison for his role in Kauffman’s death.
In July 2016, Woody said he gave the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office false information when he told authorities he saw Carson and then-California Highway Patrol Officer Walter Wells where Kauffman was killed.
Woody apologized through a letter from his attorney to the court. Woody admitted to providing information he knew to be false, saying he felt pressured after a visit from his mother to incorporate into his statement “certain embellishments that were created by and testified to by his mother in a misguided attempt to assist in the prosecution of the case.”
The defense has said this is a case of wrongful prosecution by vindictive prosecutors intent on ruining Carson. The defense attorneys are expected to begin presenting their closing arguments Wednesday.
Carson is accused of being the ringleader of a criminal conspiracy to thwart thieves from repeatedly stealing from his property on Ninth Street in Turlock. The prosecution alleges that Carson recruited a group of people to send a violent message to burglars, which resulted in Kauffman’s death after he was caught in late March 2012 trying to steal irrigation pipes from Carson.
Woody testified in the trial that they brought Kauffman’s body to a lot next to the convenience store, where he cut off Kauffman’s fingers and toes before wrapping the body in a tarp and burying it in a shallow grave.
“You have to ask yourself, why would anyone make this up? He didn’t. It happened,” Ferreira told the jury.
The prosecutor argued that cell-phone tower records show Bobby and Dee in the area of Carson’s property matching the approximate times provided by Woody and corroborating his testimony.
That same night, Bobby and Dee repeatedly told Woody to “keep your mouth shut,” according to the prosecutor. She said Woody went home feeling sick and scared after what he described as a “horrific act.”
Woody revealed some of the details about what happened to Kauffman to members of his family, long before law enforcement officials began questioning him.
Woody’s secret recording
In 2014, Woody was secretly recorded by his then-girlfriend. Woody told her that he killed Kauffman, pulled out his teeth and fed his remains to pigs. He later told authorities he lied to his girlfriend to impress her. Not long after, Woody learned authorities had issued an arrest warrant for him.
Ferreira told the jurors that Woody was “bragging and bolstering” to others about what he knew about Kauffman’s death, but his story to his girlfriend had “shades of the truth.”
Woody testified that Bobby told him they had to move Kauffman’s body about 20 days after burying it near the convenience store. He says he unearthed the body, before he, his girlfriend and Bobby drove about 90 minutes to “the mountains” in the middle of the night.
The drive continued onto dirt roads, before they stopped and dumped the body, according to Woody. He said that they scattered Kauffman’s severed fingers and toes nearby.
They returned to Turlock, Woody says, and Bobby told him to get rid of his pickup. Woody testified that he drove the pickup down East Avenue to where the road dead-ends and set the vehicle on fire.