Nine people were charged in connection with the disappearance and death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman. The case against Frank Carson, Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal concluded with not-guilty verdicts Friday after 14 months of testimony and argument.
Three of the other defendants have been cleared of wrongdoing by the court, two are still facing criminal charges and one agreed to a plea deal in exchange for his testimony.
Kauffman was 26 years old when he 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.
The prosecution alleged 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’s property.
Judge Barbara Zuniga, a visiting judge from Contra Costa County assigned to the case, determined there wasn’t enough evidence for Carson’s wife, Georgia DeFilippo, and her daughter, Christina DeFilippo, to stand trial. They were once accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice. The mother also was charged with murder, and her daughter also was charged with being an accessory.
The Oakland-based law firm of attorney Gary Gwilliam on April 10, 2018, filed a civil lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the DeFillipos. The defendants listed in the lawsuit include Stanislaus County, the cities of Modesto, Ceres and Turlock, District Attorney Birgit Fladager, Chief Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira and several investigators who worked on the case.
For now, the civil lawsuit has been placed on hold. Both sides agreed to wait for the conclusion of the criminal case in Kauffman’s death before proceeding with the lawsuit, according to documents filed with the U.S. Court Eastern District of California.
Eduardo Quintanar Jr. also has been cleared of wrongdoing. He was a CHP officer working in the Modesto area when he also was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and being an accessory.
Judge Zuniga on Oct. 24, 2017, determined the prosecution did not present any evidence to indicate Quintanar committed any crimes and dropped the charges against him. Gwilliam’s law firm also filed a civil lawsuit in federal court on Quintanar’s behalf.
The defendants listed in Quintanar’s lawsuit include Stanislaus County, the city of Modesto, Fladager, Ferreira and some of the investigators. This case also was put on hold until the criminal case concluded.
Two other CHP officers were arrested and charged in August 2015. Walter Wells was accused of murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice in Kauffman’s death. Scott McFarlane was accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice and being an accessory.
At the end of an 18-month preliminary hearing in April 2017, Judge Zuniga determined there was enough evidence for Wells to stand trial on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and acting as an accessory after Kauffman was killed. The murder charge against Wells was dropped.
After spending 16 months in the Stanislaus County Jail, Wells in December 2016 was released from custody when Judge Zuniga reduced his bail amount of $10 million to $50,000.
Even if Wells was convicted of conspiracy and accessory, his attorney at the time, Timothy Rien, said Wells would have already served his sentence while awaiting prosecution in jail. Wells is being prosecuted separately. He’s scheduled to return to court July 18 for a pretrial hearing, and his trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 13.
Judge Zuniga on Oct. 24, 2017, dropped the obstruction charge against McFarlane but ordered him to stand trial on the accessory charge. His preliminary hearing was held separately.
Judge Robert Moody on May 21, 2018, granted a defense motion to overturn Zuniga’s ruling. Moody, a retired Monterey County judge, was assigned to hear McFarlane’s motion.
Moody’s ruling meant the criminal case against McFarlane was over, and he was free to go. However, the case against McFarlane started all over again the following morning, when the District Attorney’s Office filed a new complaint against him with the identical accessory charge.
McFarlane’s case now has been assigned to Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley, and a new preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin Aug. 12.
It is not clear what impact, if any, the verdicts rendered on Friday will have on the cases against Wells and McFarlane.
Jai Gohel, Baljit Athwal’s attorney, said Friday the District Attorney’s office should drop those charges immediately, since the jury has determined that Carson and his co-defendants did not kill Kauffman.
“They’d be crazy to try those cases,” Gohel said. “They took these officer’s careers.”
Robert Lee Woody initially was the only one charged with Kauffman’s murder for more than a year. He has received a plea deal and will be formally sentenced to seven years and four months in prison. He has remained in custody at the county jail and is scheduled to return to court Aug. 14.
Woody has testified that Daljit Atwal shot Kauffman during a confrontation with him and the defendant’s brother. The defense challenged the credibility of Woody, who once claimed that he alone killed Kauffman and fed his remains to pigs.