Three not-guilty pleas in Kauffman murder case

Christina DeFilippo, left, and Eduardo Quintanar, right, were both charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice in the 2012 slaying of Korey Kauffman.
Christina DeFilippo, left, and Eduardo Quintanar, right, were both charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice in the 2012 slaying of Korey Kauffman. jwestberg@modbee.com

Three defendants facing charges related to the death of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman pleaded not guilty Monday morning.

Christina Anne DeFilippo and California Highway Patrol Officers Scott McFarlane and Eduardo Quintanar Jr. each are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and being an accessory. The three, out on bail, made their first court appearances since their arrests Aug. 14.

DeFilippo, McFarlane and Quintanar refused to waive their right to a preliminary hearing in a timely manner. Their arraignment concluded Monday afternoon, and the judge scheduled them to return Sept. 21 to Stanislaus Superior Court.

A hearing for six other defendants, who are charged with murder in Kauffman’s death, continued into late Monday afternoon. Frank Carson, a Modesto criminal defense attorney, is accused of orchestrating a criminal conspiracy that resulted in the March 2012 death of Kauffman, 26, and a cover-up of his slaying.

Along with Carson, prosecutors have charged his wife, Georgia DeFilippo; brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal; and former CHP officer Walter Wells with murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Christina DeFilippo is Carson’s stepdaughter.

It’s unclear whether the defendants will be prosecuted together. The defendants and their attorneys will return to court Sept. 21 to discuss whether the three out-of-custody defendants will be prosecuted separately, because they have chosen to proceed with their preliminary hearing as soon as possible.

Robert Lee Woody, Carson’s former client, also is charged with murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice in Kauffman’s death. He is being prosecuted separately.

For those who remain in custody, one matter has been settled: the in-custody defendants no longer have to remain shackled in court.

“I’ve never in 29 years had a defendants shackled in court,” said Judge Barbara Zuniga, a visiting judge from Contra Costa County assigned to handle the murder trial. “I think it sends the wrong message. I don’t want the public to see that.”

But how the defendants will be shackled while meeting with their attorneys in jail has not been settled.

Martha Carlton-Magana, who represents Baljit Athwal, and Percy Martinez, who represents Carson, had sought to have Sheriff Adam Christianson held in contempt for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to unshackle one hand when the defendants visited with their attorneys.

The Sheriff’s Department went to an appellate court to try to overturn the local judge’s order to allow them to have one hand free, but the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal on Thursday declined to review the local judge’s order.

Zuniga said she found it “troubling” that the sheriff had not complied but would not hold him in contempt. The judge discovered the sheriff had not been properly served. Attorneys showed the court’s written order to jail staff instead of Christianson himself.

The sheriff on Monday told The Modesto Bee that once he learned on Friday night that the appellate court declined to review the matter, he directed his staff to unshackle one hand of each inmate when he or she met with an attorney.

Christianson said an attorney representing his agency will discuss the shackling issue with the court at a Sept. 25 hearing, but in the meantime, attorneys found a compromise that will allow the defendants to meet with their attorneys with their hands cuffed in front of them, but without a “black box” that covers the chain between each cuff.

The box is intended to prevent anyone from tampering with the lock. It does inhibit mobility, Christianson said.

“We need an opportunity to make our case,” Christianson said. “While I certainly respect the court, the sheriff is not going to knowingly ask his team to violate our safety and security protocols.”

The proceedings have been moved from the main courthouse to a former federal bankruptcy courtroom a few blocks away in downtown Modesto. That court had been remodeled for a six-defendant murder trial earlier this year.