A DNA expert hired by the prosecution has testified that he found no evidence linking a fired bullet to Modesto attorney Frank Carson and his two co-defendants, who are accused of murder in the death of Korey Kauffman.
The expert said in court that he didn’t find enough DNA to produce test results for some areas of the bullet with a minor DNA contributor. But Stanislaus County investigators did not ask him to try to identify an unidentified major DNA contributor found on the bullet.
DNA evidence can include a mixture from two people identified as major and minor contributors.
Testimony continues into the eighth month of the trial for Carson and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal. Prosecutors accuse Carson of being the ringleader of an effort to stop thieves from stealing antiques and scrap metal from his property on Ninth Street in Turlock.
The prosecution alleges Carson recruited others to send a violent message to burglars, which resulted in Kauffman’s death after he was caught trying to steal irrigation pipes from Carson.
Kauffman was 26 years old when he disappeared in 2012. His remains were found more than a year later in a remote area of the Stanislaus National Forest in Mariposa County.
Investigators found the fired bullet embedded in dirt. Gary Clayton Harmor was hired to analyze the bullet and other evidence collected by authorities. Harmor of the Serological Research Institute in Richmond specializes in identification and testing of biological evidence in civil and criminal cases.
Harmor testified Oct. 24 that he found on the bullet DNA traces from Kauffman, which indicated the bullet could’ve been fired through his body, according to a court transcript. He said the major DNA contributor that was found remains unidentified, but it doesn’t match the defendants.
Harmor said in court that the DNA traces on the bullet — other than Kauffman — could’ve come from somebody grabbing the bullet to slide into a gun’s chamber or into an ammunition magazine for loading a gun.
The expert was given samples of DNA from Carson and his co-defendants on trial for comparison with the evidence. There was insufficient amount of DNA to make a complete comparison for the minor contributors on the bullet, Harmon said.
He said there was severe degradation that prevented a complete comparison. But he did rule out the defendants.
“Well, I was able to look at the alleles (DNA) that were present and compare them and I was able to rule out each of the persons that were submitted to me except for Korey Kauffman,” Harmor said on the witness stand.
Authorities also gave Harmor DNA samples from Robert Lee Woody, who has agreed to a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. Harmor testified that the DNA evidence he tested did not match Woody.
Woody was the only person charged with murder in Kauffman’s death for about a year until several other alleged conspirators were arrested. Woody has since told authorities Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal were fighting with Kauffman on Carson’s property moments before Daljit Atwal shot Kauffman to death.
Woody has claimed that he helped bury Kauffman’s body just outside the brothers’ Turlock liquor store, where it was for 27 days before Kauffman’s body was unearthed and dumped in the Stanislaus National Forest. Prosecutors have argued that the remains were left exposed to the natural elements and animals scavenging for food.
Harmor also compared the evidence to the five other people who have been charged in the Kauffman murder case. He testified that he didn’t match them to the bullet either. Charges have been dropped for three of these defendants, while two others await prosecution.
Harmor said the major DNA profile he found on the bullet remains unidentified. He was not asked by Stanislaus County investigators to submit the unidentified profile to a nationwide database maintained by the FBI.
The Combined Offender DNA Indexing System includes DNA samples from people convicted of crimes. Harmor testified that the database also includes unidentified DNA from evidence, which are compared with convicted offenders every two weeks.
Harmor said in court that Stanislaus County investigators would’ve had to ask to submit the DNA evidence for comparison with the nationwide database; and they did not.
He also said that it appeared to him that he had enough DNA information on the unidentified profile to fulfill the FBI’s requirement to compare with the database. But the San Mateo County crime lab would have to verify his work before it could be uploaded to the FBI database.