‘Nightmare of a case’ continues for former CHP officer. Why is he still facing trial?

Prosecutors continue to proceed toward a trial for a former California Highway Patrol officer accused of concealing a murder allegedly committed by three men who have since been acquitted.

Late last month, a jury found prominent Modesto attorney Frank Carson and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal not guilty in Korey Kauffman’s death.

Walter Wells is one of two remaining defendants who still face charges. Wells is accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice and acting as an accessory.

Kauffman, 26, 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.

Prosecutors alleged that Kauffman was killed after he was caught on Carson’s property trying to steal irrigation pipes. The defense argued that this was a vindictive prosecution intent on ruining Carson’s career.

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Walter Wells hugs Modesto attorney Frank Carson in a courthouse hallway moments after a Stanislaus County jury on June 28, 2019, found Carson and two others not guilty of murder in the death of Korey Kauffman. Andy Alfaro

Another former CHP officer, Scott McFarlane, faces an accessory charge. Wells and McFarlane are being prosecuted separately.

With last month’s acquittal, some assumed the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office would drop the charges against Wells and McFarlane.

The Bee asked the District Attorney’s Office how it can proceed with Wells’ charges when the three men accused of murder in Kauffman’s death have been acquitted.

“I’m sure any legal issues involved in the case will be argued in court at the appropriate time,” said John Goold, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s office. The trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 13.

Robert Forkner, who is now Wells’ attorney, said “This nightmare of a case” began in July 2012 with the search of Carson’s property, and the prosecution continued to “terrorize these people” for the past seven years. He said millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on a case that has resulted in acquittals and cases thrown out of court.

“The District Attorney’s Office should dismiss all charges against Mr. Wells and stop this misconduct of justice immediately,” Forkner said in the courthouse hallway after Thursday’s hearing. He said he plans to file a motion to dismiss the charges.

Nine people were charged in connection with Kauffman’s disappearance and death. Robert Lee Woody, the only person convicted in the case, received a plea deal in exchange for testifying in the case.

Carson’s wife, Georgia DeFilippo, and his stepdaughter, Christina DeFilippo, were initially among those charged but they have been cleared of wrongdoing and are now suing local authorities in federal court, seeking damages for wrongful prosecution.

McFarlane’s case is scheduled for a pretrial hearing Aug. 12.

Eduardo Quintanar, a third CHP officer arrested in the case, also has been cleared of wrongdoing. He was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and being an accessory.

Judge Barbara 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. He also is suing local authorities in federal court.

Wells, McFarlane and Quintanar were sanctioned by the CHP and no longer work for the police agency.

After his exoneration in court, the State Personnel Board found in May that “the CHP’s discipline was far too heavy-handed and that Officer Quintanar should return as an officer with the CHP,” said Terry Leoni, Quintanar’s attorney. When Quintanar can return to duty remains unclear. The CHP is refusing the State Personnel Board’s order, Leoni has said.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.