Shortly before midnight on September 25, 2000, a lone gunman wearing a hood and bandana over his face robbed the owner of Ed’s Steakhouse as he was leaving the restaurant in Bedford, Pennsylvania.
The owner, Thomas McDevitt said he was ordered back inside and handed over an envelope stuffed with $1,800 in cash. The robber then handed McDevitt a role of electrical tape and ordered him to tape himself to a chair. Fearing he might get shot, McDevitt lunged at the gunman and knocked him to the ground. The gun went off and McDevitt fled to the kitchen to hide. After a few minutes, McDevitt heard another gunshot outside and looked out a window. He saw a car drive by with a woman behind the wheel and no passengers.
Twenty-one-year old Carl Joe Kauffman, Jr., a former dish-washer at the restaurant, was arrested on February 6, 2001 and was charged with armed robbery and assault. McDevitt was unable to identify Kauffman as the robber.
He went on trial in Bedford County Court of Common Pleas in July 2001.
Sean Mackey, a former roommate of Kauffman, testified for the prosecution. Mackey, who had been arrested on unrelated charges, said that prior to the robbery, Kauffman asked if he wanted to take part in a robbery of the restaurant. Mackey said he declined, but that after the robbery, Kauffman, who was unemployed, had a large amount of cash.
Another witness, Stephanie Baxter, said that after the crime, she saw Kauffman and his foot was wrapped in gauze bandages.
Shawn Carter, who was one of Kauffman’s best friends, testified that he gave Kauffman a roll of tape the day before the robbery and that Kauffman had a handgun. A day or two after the robbery, Carter said, Kauffman had an injury to his foot and admitted shooting himself in the foot during the robbery. At the time he initially provided that statement to police, Carter was in jail in South Carolina for unrelated charges.
Kauffman’s 17-year-old girlfriend, Patsy Norris, at first denied any knowledge of the robbery or Kauffman’s involvement in it, but agreed to testify after the prosecution promised to prosecute her as a juvenile rather than as an adult for her own role in the crime. She testified that on the night of the robbery, she dropped Kauffman at a motel parking lot near the restaurant and picked him up not long after.
The prosecution called a detective who had obtained a search warrant to take Kauffman to a physician to examine his foot after he was arrested. The detective said that he first told Kauffman that he wanted to take him for an examination and that Kauffman refused to go voluntarily, saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”
The physician who had examined Kauffman’s foot testified that Kauffman had been injured, but the injury was not the result of a gunshot.
On August 1, 2001, a jury convicted Kauffman of armed robbery and assault. He was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.
In 2002, a post-conviction petition for a new trial was filed and a hearing was held. Carter recanted his testimony and said that he implicated Kauffman after police threatened him with a lengthy prison term for armed robbery in South Carolina if he did not implicate Kauffman.
Norris testified that she implicated Kauffman after police told her that if she were convicted as an adult, she would be sent to a prison where “young girls are raped with broomstick handles and get their throats slashed.” She said she “only said those things to keep myself out of jail” and that the information had been fed to her by detectives.
The motion for a new trial was denied. But in August 2003, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed the conviction. The court held that the prosecution had erred by eliciting the testimony that Kauffman had refused to voluntarily allow his foot to be examined. The testimony “created an impermissible inference of a guilty conscience,” the Superior Court ruled. The court noted that the conviction rested “almost entirely upon the testimony of convicted felons or witnesses who were incarcerated and awaiting trial, many of whom admittedly received favorable treatment for their testimony and stated after trial that their testimony was the product of threat and coercion in addition to favorable treatment.”
Kauffman went on trial a second time in 2004. Carter did not testify, but Mackey did. The defense undermined his testimony by playing recordings of jailhouse telephone conversations between Mackey and his girlfriend during which he said he had gotten a “free ride” on burglary charges pending against him in return for his testimony—even though he denied at the first trial that he got any deal.
Kauffman testified in his own defense and denied involvement in the robbery. He said his foot was injured when he dropped a butcher knife while washing dishes. He said that on the night of the crime, he and Norris drove to his grandmother’s home to pick up some spaghetti sauce—an account Kauffman’s mother corroborated.
On June 25, 2004, a jury acquitted Kauffman and he was released.
– Maurice Possley