By Victoria Cavaliere
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California defense attorney and three state highway patrol officers were arrested on Friday in connection with the 2012 killing of a man thought to be stealing scrap metal and other items from private property, police said.
A total of nine people were arrested near the city of Modesto, about 92 miles (68 km) east of San Francisco, on a string of charges related to the murder of 26-year-old Korey Kauffman, according to the Stanislaus County sheriff's office.
Criminal defense attorney Frank Carson, who last year made an unsuccessful run for Stanislaus County district attorney, was named as ringleader of the plot and charged with first degree murder, conspiracy and the special circumstance of lying in wait, which could qualify for the death penalty under California law.
The probable cause arrest warrant describes Carson as an easy-to-anger property owner with no respect for law enforcement who was hoping to send a message to thieves targeting his belongings.
Carson accused Kauffman of stealing items from a property he owned in Turlock, where he stored antiques, scrap and cars.
Kauffman was known locally for "scrapping," or stealing metal to sell to recyclers, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Carson had complained to authorities about his missing property and had confronted Kauffman, who did not deny his involvement, the arrest documents said.
Kauffman went missing in March 2012. His remains were found by hunters in a remote area of Mariposa County in August 2013. Witnesses said he was beaten to death.
Among those arrested on Friday were Carson's wife, her daughter, and three other associates.
Carson's attorney told the Sacramento Bee his client looked forward to fighting the allegations in court and clearing his name.
California Highway Patrol officer Walter Wells also faces charges of murder, conspiracy and false imprisonment. It was unclear how he intended to plead. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the arrest documents, Kauffman's body was dumped in the woods by a police car, witnesses told investigators.
Two other officers, Scott McFarlane and Eduardo Quintanar Jr., were charged with criminal conspiracy and being an accessory.
The two officers could not immediately be reached for comment about the allegations.
“The California Highway Patrol is a very proud organization that values integrity," CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said at a Friday press conference, the Modesto Bee reported. "To hear news like this is devastating."
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Nick Macfie)