Our View | Not guilty verdict has far-reaching impact for Stanislaus County, its DA

Kauffman family reels from not-guilty verdict

Stanislaus County murder trial comes to an end for Modesto, California, attorney Frank Carson and two others accused in the death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman.
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Stanislaus County murder trial comes to an end for Modesto, California, attorney Frank Carson and two others accused in the death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman.

The spectacle of a murder trial that ended Friday in Modesto with the acquittals of Frank Carson and two others produced so many negatives, it’s difficult to keep track. The fallout was complete and far-reaching.

Taxpayers. The Modesto Bee has asked how much it’s been costing to prosecute this exhausting case, including an 18-month preliminary hearing and 14-month trial, but Stanislaus County so far hasn’t said. The amount must be high, embarrassing and infuriating.

Again, taxpayers. Because they will bear costs of resulting civil lawsuits. Three already have been filed, by Carson’s wife and her daughter plus another defendant, all three of whom initially were charged with murdering Korey Kauffman but later were dismissed from the tenuous case. What are the chances Frank Carson and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal will stake claims as well?

All of us. Because our streets are not as safe as they might be. District Attorney Birgit Fladager, suffering a hemorrhage of attorneys leaving her office, decided a few weeks ago not to prosecute some minor crimes because she doesn’t have enough staff. How many criminals have gone free because she opted to commit so many resources to the Carson case?

For those involved in the case, it seemed to go on forever. But it ended suddenly with the jury acquittal for Modesto attorney Frank Carson, Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, who spent the past four years accused of murder.

Fladager’s reputation. Carson, a prominent defense attorney, had dared to oppose Fladager’s underlings in court, too often with an irritating smirk and smug arrogance, and then had the audacity to run against her in 2014. Her case was gutted way back in December 2016, where the enraged judge released all three defendants upon learning that Fladager’s office had withheld evidence in violation of law. The scraps of remaining credibility hinged on the testimony of a man who previously had bragged about killing Kauffman himself and feeding his remains to pigs, before changing his mind and agreeing to blame the defendants. Was Fladager, who couldn’t be bothered to attend Friday’s verdict, too blinded by pride and rage to see that this case was a loser?

Jurors. They are commended for doing their civic duty, but it’s impossible not to feel sorry for them, sitting there day after day for 14 months. What they might have accomplished otherwise in that wasted time, God only knows.

Other deputy district attorneys. The relatively few who haven’t fled Fladager’s office have been forced to absorb the cases left by those who are gone. Many left precisely because of already high workload. Nothing drives that more than murder cases dragging on and on. Although Stanislaus County is no more violent that its neighbors to the north and south — San Joaquin and Merced counties — the murder case backlog here remains much higher, despite The Bee sounding an alarm four years ago, and again in late 2017. Other players in the court system — judges, court administrators and defense attorneys — share some blame, but Fladager must, too.

Kauffman. Although he was no prince, no one deserves to be slain, especially not for a few measly bucks in scrap metal. And all murder victims and their families deserve justice. In this sorry case, that did not happen.

Frank Carson, on trial related to the death of Korey Kauffman, walks into the courtroom at Stanislaus County Superior Court in Modesto, CA, oni June 28, 2019.

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