Crime

Witness says Korey Kauffman struggled to free himself from Turlock liquor store owners

Pop-N-Cork liquor store in Turlock, Ca. Aug. 26, 2015.
Pop-N-Cork liquor store in Turlock, Ca. Aug. 26, 2015. pguerra@modbee.com

Robert Lee Woody on Tuesday described what he saw when, he says, Korey Kauffman tried to get away from Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal as the brothers punched and kicked him.

“Like a cat trying to get away from a dog,” Woody said on the witness stand. “Korey is the cat. Bobby (Baljit Athwal) and D (Daljit Atwal) are the dogs.”

Woody continued his testimony in a preliminary hearing for six defendants charged in Kauffman’s slaying. The prosecution believes Kauffman was killed after he was caught trying to steal scrap metal from Frank Carson.

Authorities believe Carson, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Modesto, led a conspiracy to thwart thieves from repeatedly stealing antiques and scrap metal from his property. He is accused of recruiting people to send a violent message, which led to Kauffman’s death.

The defense says Woody has given conflicting stories, including one account in which he claimed sole responsibility for Kauffman’s death. Woody has been given leniency in exchange for testimony against the defendants.

Woody has testified that Kauffman was shot during a fight with Athwal and Atwal on Carson’s Ninth Street property in Turlock. The witness claims Atwal held a black handgun as Kauffman was on the ground fatally wounded by gunfire.

Athwal and Atwal own the Pop-N-Cork liquor store in Turlock, where Woody worked for several years. Woody testified that he and the two brothers decided to bury Kauffman’s body in a shallow grave next to the liquor store.

The three men returned to the store from Carson’s property, according to Woody. He said that Atwal told him to keep his mouth shut, or else he would end up like Kauffman. Woody testified that Atwal promised to get him legal representation if he kept silent.

Woody said he came up with the idea to roll Kauffman’s body in a tarp before burying it in a lot next to the store. Woody testified that Kauffman’s fingers and toes were cut off and placed inside a black bag, along with rags to absorb blood. He said the black bag was rolled up in the tarp with the body.

A few weeks later, Athwal decided to relocate Kauffman’s body, according to Woody. He said investigators looking into Kauffman’s disappearance had been at the store asking questions.

Woody testified that he and Baljit Athwal unearthed Kauffman’s body at night. The body was still wrapped in the tarp. He said they placed the body in the back of Athwal’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup. They left the store to get rid of Kauffman’s body, Woody said.

Athwal drove the pickup, Woody said. Woody and his then-girlfriend, who has since died, rode in the pickup. Woody testified that they drove to a remote area in “the mountains.” He had never been there before.

Woody said nobody in the pickup spoke during the 90-minute drive that night. “It was basically silence,” he said in court.

The trip ended along a dirt road. They didn’t have flashlights, but Woody said there was “moonlight” and “starlight.” He said, “It wasn’t all that dark.”

Woody claims that he and Athwal took the body down an steep embankment, about 30 yards, before they reached a flat area. Woody said they unrolled the body out of the tarp, and he scattered Kauffman’s severed fingers and toes throughout the area. He said he placed the tarp, the black bag, the used rags and a sheetrock knife back in the pickup, leaving Kauffman’s body behind.

He testified that Athwal told him, “We need to hurry up before we get caught.”

They returned to the liquor store that night, Woody said, and Athwal wanted to get rid of the pickup. Woody said he came up with the idea to burn the pickup. Woody and his girlfriend drove the pickup to a secluded remote area outside of Turlock, where he used gasoline to burn the vehicle. He claims Atwal picked the couple up in his BMW and drove them back to the store.

Woody testified that he burned the used rags and the sheetrock knife in a barbecue pit outside the store, before throwing the burned remains in a garbage can behind the store, along with the tarp.

The prosecution says Kauffman, 26, was last seen alive March 30, 2012, before heading to Carson’s property to steal irrigation pipes. In August 2013, Kauffman’s remains were found scattered in a remote area of the Stanislaus National Forest in Mariposa County.

Woody’s testimony is expected to continue this week in Stanislaus Superior Court.

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394, @ModBeeCourts

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