Daniel Wozniak’s Fiancée Appears In Court

On Friday, January 27th, Rachel Buffett appeared at the Orange County Superior Courthouse for a pre-trial motion. I decided to go to court that day to see if there is anything new or interesting happening with her case.

If you’re just joining the blog, let me give you a little back-story.

Rachel Buffett’s Involvement

Rachel Mae Buffett is the former fiancée of convicted killer Daniel Wozniak. Daniel is sitting on death row in San Quentin for the murders of two college students, Samuel Herr and Julie “Juri” Kibuishi, which took place in May 2010.

Daniel Wozniak confessed to both murders. He admitted to murdering Sam Herr in order to clean out Herr’s bank account. In his confession, Daniel Wozniak also stated that he used Sam Herr’s cell phone and pretended to be Sam Herr while texting with Herr’s friend, Julie Kibuishi. The purpose was to lure Julie Kibuishi to Sam Herr’s apartment to murder her as well. Daniel Wozniak claimed he killed Kibuishi with the purpose of framing Sam Herr for her murder.

It was a complicated and horrifying scheme, made even more disturbing by Daniel Wozniak’s decapitation of Sam Herr’s body, and later setting a scene to make it look as though Sam Herr had sexually assaulted Julie Kibuishi before murdering her.

Daniel Wozniak confessed to doing all these terrible things alone, and he never officially implicated anyone else in the crimes.

Stories Changing

Rachel Buffett and Daniel Wozniak were scheduled to get married the following week, and the two of them were almost always together. Yet Rachel went along with Daniel’s assertion that she had no previous knowledge or involvement with either murder.

In fact, it was Rachel who handed important evidence over to the police. She appeared to be another victim of this crime: a woman whose life had just been overturned because the man she loved had confessed to being a murderer.

However, the police had a lot of questions for Rachel Buffett, and they weren’t necessarily satisfied with her answers.

Early in the investigation, Rachel echoed Daniel Wozniak’s story by telling the police there was an unknown third man with Sam Herr and Daniel Wozniak on the day Sam was murdered.

After Daniel admitted to making up the third man in order to throw the police off his trail, Rachel claimed she had never actually seen a third man. She was only reiterating what Daniel had told her because she took it for granted what he’d told her was true.

But it seemed to the police Rachel was helping Daniel lie to them. There were also suspicions that Rachel knew Daniel was texting Julie Kibuishi with Sam Herr’s phone. Rachel and Daniel both told the authorities Rachel was asleep in their apartment when he slipped out to murder Julie. Yet there was a record of Rachel on Facebook at that time… actually sending a casual message to Julie Kibuishi.

And there were witnesses from the theatre who said Rachel was heard mentioning a missing or possibly murdered “friend” before Julie’s body was even found.

Rachel Buffett Charged

In November 2012, the Orange County District Attorney charged Rachel Buffett with three felony counts of being an accessory to double homicide. She spent three weeks in jail (including Thanksgiving), and was eventually released on a $100,000.00 bail.

The maximum time she could face is three years and eight months. It is my understanding that Rachel Buffett turned down an opportunity to arrange a plea bargain with the Orange County District Attorney, or to testify against Daniel Wozniak. Rachel has stated that she is completely innocent of anything related to the murders of Sam or Julie.

Rachel Back in Court

Daniel Wozniak’s trial was held on the eighth floor of the Superior courthouse, but Rachel appeared in a much smaller courtroom on the second floor. I knew I had found the right place when I saw Sam Herr’s parents, Steve and Raquel Herr, standing outside in the hallway.

This wasn’t a surprise at all. I expected to see them. Sam’s parents attended every one of Daniel Wozniak’s hearings and never missed a day of his trial. When Steve Herr and Rachel Buffett both appeared on Dr. Phil in 2013, Steve Herr didn’t hide his disdain for Rachel and her claims of ignorance about the murders of his son Sam and Julie Kibuishi.

Courtroom C49 was semi-crowded because there were several different cases being seen there that morning. A large, caged holding area was on the left side of the courtroom, and occasionally prisoners were brought inside it for hearings.

Rachel’s trial was scheduled to begin at nine, but her case wasn’t called until around ten thirty. I ended up sitting in the front row next to a reporter I’d seen many times during Daniel’s trial, and we chatted casually when court wasn’t in session.

Rachel Buffett and a suited man, who I figured was her lawyer, entered the busy courtroom and had a brief whispered conversation.  I couldn’t hear any of it over the din of the voices in the courtroom. Then, Rachel sat down on the other side of the reporter in the front row, and the two of us instinctively stopped chatting.

Rachel wore a black blazer with matching slacks and cream colored character shoes (wide-heeled shoes that actresses often wear onstage). Her long blond hair was in a neat braid that fell over her right shoulder. She didn’t seem to notice me or the reporter.

It was hard to get a read on Rachel. She didn’t necessarily look worried, but I felt like she was nervous. It’s possible I just assumed she was nervous, because who wouldn’t be in her situation? I glanced around to see if she had any family with her. I don’t know what they look like, but I knew to look for blonde. It was a blonde free zone at that moment. A surprise in California.

Rachel sat there, using her phone for a couple of minutes, and then got up and hurriedly left the courtroom. A moment later, the reporter left as well, and I was worried I’d missed something. Maybe the reporter overheard the conversation and learned that Rachel Buffett’s trial would be postponed again? That ended up being the case.

Before I could decide to leave, Rachel walked back into the courtroom. This time she was accompanied by a young blonde man. I was guessing this was her brother, Noah. So, she wasn’t there alone.

Now there were two empty seats next to me in the front row. Rachel directed “possible Noah” toward the seats. He was about to sit in the aisle seat (which meant Rachel would have to scooch by him to sit down… next to me), when Rachel gestured for him to move to the second seat in. He sat next to me and Rachel sat on the aisle again.

I honestly don’t know if Rachel has any idea who I am. I’m not positive I ever even spoke to her at the Hunger Artists theatre company, and I don’t know if she reads this blog.

I didn’t try to talk to her at all, which later surprised Daniel. If Rachel reads the blog, then she figured out who I am. The hair color and tattoos are a dead give-away. But I’d had no plans to go all “reporter” on her at that time.

Of course, I would love to interview Rachel, but I wasn’t about to lean over “possible Noah” and ask her if she’s telling the truth about her involvement in the murders of Sam or Julie.  If Rachel reads my blog, she knows I don’t believe her story. I don’t think she is an innocent victim.

Obviously, I’m not the only one, or she wouldn’t have been in court that day.

Within ten minutes, Rachel Buffett’s case was called and she stepped up to a nearby podium to hear that her trial was postponed until March 17th. Ironically, Daniel considers St. Patrick’s Day to be the anniversary of the beginning of his and Rachel’s romantic relationship.  I plan to be there again, unless there’s some kind of plea arrangement before that. But I don’t see that happening.

Next Up On the Blog

My first trip to visit San Quentin.

Lock Down

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what to write here. There’s not much new happening with Daniel’s appeal yet.  And if there’s any new information I’m learning about alternate motives for the murders, Daniel’s actual timeline on the day(s) Sam and Julie were killed, or the chance that Sam’s cell phone wasn’t always in Daniel’s possession, I’m saving it for now.

That leaves us with Daniel’s daily life on death row as the main blog topic.

On Thursday January nineteenth, I got the first of numerous emails from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) stating that parts of San Quentin State Prison were on lockdown. That included East Block where Daniel is housed. Visits and inmate programs were cancelled until further notice.

Unfortunately, there was no reason given for the lockdown, but my imagination had field day. I couldn’t find anything online about a prison riot, inmate escape, or hostage situation, so I decided it couldn’t be too terrible, right? But what warrants locking down a maximum-security prison?

The Flu!

San Quentin is experiencing a major flu epidemic. Inmates have flooded a local hospital and the SQSP infirmary is overflowing into other areas of the prison. Inmates are on a “modified” schedule until further notice. This has included the cancellation of most inmate programs and classes, the elimination of yard time, and being forced to wear masks when moving about the prison. And all visits were revoked indefinitely.

I had a visit planned for that weekend, but luckily, I’d cancelled it because I didn’t want to drive in the snow over the grapevine.

Last October, the inmates were offered flu shots. Daniel declined. He thought it was illogical because the possible side effects of the shot were the exact same as the list of flu symptoms. I’ve never had a flu shot. I know people who swear by having one every year, but I don’t get the flu very often and when I do, it’s short lived (knock wood).

Daniel is not sick, by the way. He tells me he pretty much never gets sick. He’s blessed with a strong immune system and he’s very careful to keep his cell clean. Also, he’s made sure to wipe down the inmate phone with bleach before using it. I guess that’s not much different from me wiping off a grocery cart handle with a Clorox wipe.

Not having the flu hasn’t kept Daniel worry free. So far two inmates have died. One was an older man, but the second was a man in his thirties only a couple of cells down from Daniel. It must be scary to be sick in prison. During an epidemic like this, I’m sure it’s not that easy to get to see a doctor. I figure it’s also nerve-wracking to be healthy and yet locked down with numerous contagious sick people.

The Reality of Prison

I envision this world of Daniel’s, which is so how far removed my own, and it makes me even more curious about how he lives. I mean that in terms of living and coping.

I think everyone has a mental picture of what we think prison is like. If you’re anything like me, you’ve even wondered how you would handle being incarcerated. A lot of it would depend on where you were locked up, and for how long, of course. Could I survive the world of Orange is the New Black? And when I do imagine this awful scenario for myself, I’m always innocent of the crime. Doing time you don’t deserve seems unlivable.

You just have to watch the ID Channel to know innocent people get put in prison all the time. Of course, that’s usually because they let the police question them without a lawyer. (Come on, even if you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.) That’s the first thing you learn from watching Dateline.

Imagine if Scott Sanders had been Daniel’s defense attorney from the beginning. I bet Scott Sanders imagined that himself quite a few times during the trial. Whenever I re-watch Daniel’s confession video, I can’t help thinking, “Shut up, stupid. Ask for a lawyer.”

Daniel Wozniak is guilty, though, and should be behind bars. So, I don’t really feel bad for him that he didn’t have the wherewithal to ask for a lawyer. Because Daniel is remorseful for his crimes, and he knows be deserves to be punished, doing his time is made somewhat easier.

Of course, the fact is, Daniel spending the rest of his life behind bars won’t bring back Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. Even if Daniel is one day executed by the state of California, he will still have had a much longer life than either of his victims. Nothing about that is fair. I’m hopeful Sam’s and Julie’s families find a little bit of solace in knowing that Daniel Wozniak isn’t walking the streets. His life is greatly restricted. He’s lost his freedom and his future.

Long before I met Daniel Wozniak, the thought of San Quentin’s Death Row would bring to mind images of bars and bricks surrounded by ice cold water. The thought of doing life in that prison, or worse yet, being on death row, would give me the same chills down my spine that I experienced while touring Alcatraz prison. That’s still the case, but now I also imagine inmate yoga classes (which are currently cancelled because yoga takes place on the yard).

I understand some people may look at Daniel’s current existence and feel it is far too cushy and “livable” for the likes of a cold-blooded murderer. I get that. Admittedly Daniel is living a full life behind bars, but it’s not a life I would want to live. Daniel will never be as relaxed and comfortable in his cell as I am right now in my house.

He might argue that one with me. He’s a strong proponent of prayer and meditation as a way to inner peace. I’d still rather be in front of my fireplace, a glass of wine in my hand, and my family surrounding me.

What Do You Want To Know?

Readers – Please let me know in the comments if there are any specific aspects of Daniel’s life that you’d like me to cover.

Next

The next post topic will be on Daniel’s ex-fiancée, Rachel Buffett. I was in court during her “pre-trial” hearing on Friday January 27th, and her case has been postponed again. She’s back on March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day!)

Bye Bye Birdie

Daniel has been on San Quentin’s death row for a couple of months now and he’s settling in quite nicely. It will probably be at least a year or so before there is any action regarding his appeal, which means he won’t be going anywhere for a while.

San Quentin’s condemned unit is a well-run machine. Daniel’s life is much more scheduled now. He’s taking classes regularly, he attends various religious services, and he goes to dental appointments.

Daniel was recently assigned to yard group six, and can go outside every day. He assured me that it is a very safe group, and that’s why he requested it specifically. The inmates in this group aren’t in gangs (or have dropped out of gang life). Yard group six hasn’t had a violent incident in eight years.  Also, Daniel already had a buddy in that group he met when they were both locked up in Orange County.

The condemned unit of San Quentin has a fair and organized yard use system. There are six large outdoor areas on one side of the prison and one smaller outdoor area on another. The inmate groups rotate from day to day, meaning each group will be in the smaller yard once a week. On Daniel’s first day out with the group, they were assigned to the small yard, and even then, he was still impressed with the size.

I was looking forward to hearing all about Daniel’s first outing with his new group. Did he have fun? Were the other inmates nice? Is there a tetherball court?

I may be a little too used to questioning my kids after their first day of school.

But the first thing Daniel told me was how he had come close to getting his first major write-up since being incarcerated.

Uh oh. My mind immediately went on a tangent; graphic scenes from episodes of Oz were playing in my head. Did another inmate come at him with a shiv? What’s a person supposed to do then? You have to defend yourself if another person attacks you with a sharpened ring pop. Maybe he mouthed off to a guard? That didn’t seem like Daniel at all, but if he’d made a joke that wasn’t taken the right way, he could be heading to solitary confinement for the next five years.

“I had a bird in my pocket.”

A pocket bird. I didn’t see that one coming.

Daniel was an amateur magician in his teens, so maybe he was planning to practice tricks in his cell?

Bird-man of San Quentin?

Daniel had noticed a small bird, possibly a sparrow, walking around amongst the thirty or so inmates who had come out for yard. Daniel thought the bird looked injured, and the little guy wasn’t flying at all. He suspected this was a baby that had fallen out of a nearby nest.

Inmates get a sack lunch each day they can bring out to the yard, so Daniel tried to offer the bird a small piece of bread from his sandwich. The little fellow didn’t immediately trust Daniel’s offering. For the next thirty minutes, Daniel calmly followed the bird around the yard’s running track, repeatedly putting out his hand to offer bread.

I asked him if he tried throwing some bread to the bird to gain its trust. He laughed and admitted that was probably a good idea and wished he’d thought of it.

Nonetheless, “Birdie” finally came around (or was just tired of all that walking), and took some bread from Daniel’s hand.  By the end of yard time, this little bird was standing on Daniel’s index finger and eating out of the palm of his hand.

At that point, Daniel decided “Birdie” needed a warm safe place to recuperate for a while. He figured he could make a comfy little bed on the empty shelf in his cell. When yard time ended, he gingerly placed his fine feathered friend in the pocket of his jacket.

They would have made it too if that bird had just laid low in the pocket for a couple of minutes.

When inmates return to their cells after yard time, they go into a small gated area to be handcuffed before entering the prison building again. It’s sort of like a chamber lock system. The inmate stands facing the yard, with his back to the guard. The inmate’s hands are behind his back, where the guard can see them, waiting to be cuffed.

The guard who was preparing to cuff Daniel was, rightfully, taken aback when Daniel’s jacket pocket starting jumping around. Daniel is lucky the guy remained calm and didn’t shoot him immediately. Instead he asked Daniel what the deal was and learned about the bird in the pocket. Despite Daniel’s urge to give the bird a good home, the guard told him he couldn’t bring a bird into the prison.

Oh well. It was a nice thought. Daniel took the bird out of his pocket and put it on the ground, and “Birdie” walked back toward the yard. Daniel plans to keep an eye out for him, so he can share his lunch.

Of course I know trying to rescue a baby bird does not make up for committing murder. I don’t think there is anything Daniel could do that would redeem him in that regard. But I wanted to share this story because it shows the side of Daniel Wozniak most don’t get to see, or don’t believe exists. This is the Daniel I know. This is my friend.

It’s The Holiday Season… In Prison

We are smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. You can’t turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or go into any store without being reminded of this fact.

Occasionally, when I’m talking to Daniel Wozniak I will mention something fun I’m doing with my family, like going Christmas tree shopping, and then I immediately feel a little bad. I assume it must be so depressing to be reminded of the holidays when you are incarcerated.

Last year at this time, Daniel was being found guilty by a jury of his peers, and the topic of Christmas wasn’t in the forefront.

But this year is his first Christmas on death row, and he is living pretty far away from his family and friends. It’s also the first holiday season since Daniel’s father passed away.

This situation would get anyone down, and I was worried about my friend. I asked Daniel if it was OK for me to even broach the topic of how he is feeling around this time of the year, and he said he was fine with that. I told him I would come up with some questions so I could “interview” him during our next phone call.

The first thing I asked about was Daniel’s first Christmas incarcerated. I’ll be honest with you guys, I was expecting a tale of woe about the difficulties of that first year locked up at the Orange County Jail.

Nope.

Daniel’s First Christmas At The Orange County Jail

Daniel cheerfully told me about how he, “Raphly, and Doug” preceded to make a “little spread” for the other 28 inmates on their tier during their dayroom time. They made bowls of soup (ramen), with beans and Cheetos and crumbled up Sun Chips for the topping. The guards let them pass the food out to everyone in their cells. Daniel got to have a Christmas show on the television during food prep (the Jim Carey Grinch movie), and Ralphy led the tier in a song and then said a prayer.

I could tell by his voice that Daniel is still moved by the memory of making sure everyone on his tier got a good meal on Christmas.

That first Christmas wasn’t sad. Why, that first Christmas sounded glad.  

Making food for his fellow inmates became a tradition he continued each Christmas at the Orange County Jail. Leave it to Daniel (Mr. Glass Half Full) to manage to have fond memories of Christmas at County.

Daniel’s First Christmas On San Quentin’s Death Row

I asked Daniel about the general atmosphere behind bars during these weeks leading up to Christmas. For the most part, the inmates just ignore the holidays. As opposed to the OC Jail, at least San Quentin has special visiting days on holidays (even when the holiday doesn’t land on a regular visiting day). Other than that, it’s just like any other time of the year.

I can’t imagine trying to block out the holidays when every other television commercial shows a new car with a bow on it, or people baking pies, or children on Christmas morning happily playing with their recently unwrapped toys.

I guess when you’re incarcerated, you do your best to block out that sort of thing. For most of the inmates, the best part of the holidays is getting a good meal (traditional holiday fare) and watching football on Thanksgiving and basketball on Christmas.

At the OC Jail, there was one TV for each tier. Located in the day room, it wasn’t visible from all the cells.

When Daniel talked about “watching” football and basketball, that often meant just listening to the games and relying on the person in the dayroom to keep everyone else updated on the score.

This year he’s most pleased to have his own TV inside his cell. See, aside from football and basketball, Daniel really enjoys Christmas movies and specials, whereas most of the OC Jail prisoners had no interest in watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I have numerous programs I need to watch every year or else it doesn’t feel like Christmas. They are (in no particular order):

  • A Christmas Story
  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Elf
  • Miracle of 34th Street
  • Home Alone (only the first one)
  • The Year without a Santa Claus
  • The Grinch (animated – I do not need to watch that Jim Carey movie)
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • The Santa Clause (only the first one).

 And two that aren’t for the whole family: 

  • An Always Sunny Christmas
  • The Trailer Park Boys Christmas Special.

This year Daniel has already watched Rudolph, The Grinch, Frosty, and his favorite Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.

What Daniel Misses

Of course, Daniel misses being with his family.

He spoke fondly of how they would pick up his grandma on Christmas eve and go to “vigil” at five o’clock (a vigil is a Catholic mass held on the evening before the event being celebrated. Mass on Christmas Eve would be the Christmas Vigil mass). Then they’d visit various aunt’s and uncle’s houses to eat and socialize, and end the night with midnight mass. When the family got home, he and his two brothers would each get to open one present.

Daniel’s mom visited him on Thanksgiving Day and will visit again over Christmas.

I just got approved to visit, so I’ll be doing that early in the new year.

Despite Daniel’s ability to put on a happy face, I asked him to tell me a tradition he misses about Christmas on the outside.

He told me about setting up little “villages” all around his house every year. The family custom started at his aunt’s and grandma’s houses. That is where Daniel apprenticed in the art of setting up these elaborate displays of moving parts, twinkling lights and snowy landscapes. He told me he got a kick out of people enjoying the moving ice skaters and miniature scenes of children waiting in line to see Santa.

Daniel seems to be doing fine, though. He’s been behind bars for seven Christmases now, and he’s used to it.

Perspective

The Herr and Kibuishi families have had seven Christmases without Sam and Julie. I’m sure they are not used to it, and never will be.

Every year I unpack ornaments my kids made when they were little; photos of them in Santa hats (and missing front teeth) that are glued into snowman picture frames. I smile when I pull the ornaments out of the box and reminisce about those Christmases years ago. Sometimes I even tear up a little. My kids are safe and sound. I have them.

When you get right down to it, Daniel’s family still has him, even if he is in San Quentin. Daniel can still celebrate the holidays with friends (even if they are also murderers). Sam’s and Julie’s families don’t get that luxury. They only have memories of Christmases past.

These Are The People In Your Neighborhood

Recently I was watching an episode of The Perfect Murder about a man from Orange County named Kevin Green. He spent 16 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Green was found guilty of the rape of his pregnant wife (she survived) and the murder of his unborn daughter.

I’d seen this story before on other true crime shows, so I was only half watching it while I was writing. The man was finally exonerated when DNA proved that his wife and unborn child were actually victims of another man, Gerald Parker. Before his capture, Parker was known only as “The Bedroom Basher.”

Gerald Parker received that dubious nickname exactly how you would imagine. Along with the rape of Green’s wife and the murder of her unborn baby, The Bedroom Basher raped and murdered five other women in Orange County in the 1970s.

The episode ended by announcing that Gerald Parker is currently on death row in San Quentin. He was sentenced to lethal injection in January of 1999. He’s 60 now. He’s also two cells down from my friend Daniel Wozniak.

A couple of days before I watched the show, Daniel and I had a phone conversation, and he told me about an older guy he’d met in one of his classes. They got into a conversation about how they were both from Orange County. Parker was impressed that Daniel had spent six years in the OC Jail without getting one major write up. Daniel didn’t ask about Gerald Parker’s crime, but when I mentioned watching the show, Daniel made the connection.

When you’re on death row, you can probably assume everyone around you is there for doing something pretty bad. I had already wondered if Daniel would eventually come in contact with some of the more infamous killers I’d seen profiled on so many ID Network programs.

People Magazine dubbed Daniel Wozniak “The Grizzly Groom,” but I’m happy that moniker didn’t catch on. Daniel’s crimes are heinous, but I don’t think he warrants a nickname.

There are currently 745 condemned killers on San Quentin’s death row. The majority haven’t been given a lot of press. But there are quite a few inmates who’ve acquired enough notoriety to show up repeatedly on the ID Channel and have their own Wikipedia page. There’s the Yosemite Park Killer, the Freeway Killer, the Trailside Killer, the Toolbox Killer, and even Scott Peterson.

Daniel does not have a Wikipedia page. I checked. There is a Daniel Wozniak who does have a Wiki page, but he’s “a Paralympic athlete from Poland.”

Daniel’s case has been profiled quite a lot, though. Perhaps certain crimes grab the public’s attention because the circumstances are particularly bizarre. A higher number of murders committed probably draws more interest, as well. In the case of serial killers like the Bedroom Basher, the nickname often comes from the press during the investigation of the crimes.

For me personally, I find the cases that include torture or sexual assault or the murder of a child to be the most terrifying and incomprehensible. In those situations, I’m not sure if even I could look beyond the crimes to try to see the human being inside the killer.

I’m sure many of you feel the same exact way about Daniel Wozniak. Fair enough.

I’m sure if Daniel ends up meeting more of his notorious new neighbors, he will have no trouble seeing the human being behind the killer. It’s likely he won’t even know what that person did to end up on death row.

Ironically, the episode of 48 Hours and the re-airing of the Dateline episode about Daniel’s case were both shown soon after Daniel’s arrival at San Quentin. He didn’t have a TV yet, but many of his fellow inmates watched the programs.

 So, who is on death row with my friend Daniel Wozniak?

The Toolbox Killer

There were actually two Toolbox Killers: Lawrence Sigmund Bittaker and Roy Norris. However, after the men were arrested, Norris made a deal and testified against Bittaker, who ended up on death row.

Together, Bittaker and Norris kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered five teenage girls in 1979. They earned the name Tool Box Killers because their instruments of torture were items that could generally be found in the average tool box.

Richard Allen Davis

Maybe Daniel will meet Richard Allen Davis. He doesn’t have a nickname.

Davis was found guilty of molesting and murdering twelve-year-old Polly Klaas. He abducted her from her own bedroom during a slumber party with two of her friends.

Davis’ case was the impetus for the three strikes law in California. Adding to the Klaas family’s pain, just before his sentencing, Davis made a claim in court that Polly told him she’d been molested by her father, Marc Klass.

*Writer’s note – I apologize for not pointing out that Davis was lying about Polly’s father. This was just an attempt to hurt the family even more.*

The Yosemite Park Killer

Then there is Cary Anthony Stayner, who is also known as the Yosemite Park Killer. Stayner was sent to death row for the murders of 4 people.

Stayner was a handyman who worked at a motel just outside of Yosemite Park. A woman and two teenage girls were staying at the motel (mother and daughter and a family friend whose family was visiting from Argentina). Stayner used a ruse to gain access to their room by claiming he needed to repair something in the bathroom.

He bound and gagged each of them. After murdering the mother and one of the teens, Stayner loaded their bodies into the trunk of a rental car which was later found burned.

He drove the other girl away for about an hour. Then he took her out of the car and slashed her throat.

Stayner’s fourth victim was a twenty-six-year-old Naturalist who was working at Yosemite Park. Stayner attacked her when they crossed paths. When she tried to escape from him, Stayner cut her throat so deeply that he decapitated her.

Scott Peterson

Daniel actually has met Scott Peterson. It was a brief interaction in the San Quentin law library. Daniel recognized Peterson by sight, because the guy’s face was everywhere in 2002 when his wife Laci Peterson went missing in Modesto, California.

Laci was eight months pregnant at the time. She had already named the baby Connor. Authorities presumed foul play and it was believed that Laci had probably been murdered.

Suspicion fell on her husband pretty quickly, especially when a woman named Amber Frey came forward and admitted to having an affair with Scott Peterson. According to Frey, Peterson claimed to be single and a widower.

In April 2003, the bodies of Laci and her unborn baby Connor washed up on the shore of San Francisco Bay, and in March of 2005, Scott Peterson received a death sentence for their murders.

Daniel’s thought Scott Peterson seemed like a nice guy.

Charles Ng

From the first time I saw Ng’s crimes profiled on a true crime show, he and his partner, Leonard Lake, have stuck in my brain as being the most terrifying of killers.

These two men were responsible for up to twenty-five murders. They kidnapped entire families, including infant children.

The men and children were murdered first. Then Ng and Lake would rape and torture the women to death. Most of this horror took place in a makeshift torture dungeon that Lake had built outside of his remote cabin out in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

The men were captured after Ng was caught shoplifting a vice (it was to be used as a torture device since he’d broken the one they had). He was using the identification of a missing man, and this led the police investigate Ng.

Eventually the police would find copious amounts of physical evidence to link Lake and Ng to multiple murders. This included video recordings of the two men torturing their victims.

Leonard Lake never stood trial because he committed suicide soon after being apprehended. He’d sewn two cyanide pills into his clothes.

Charles Ng was eventually sentenced to death in 1999, after being extradited from Canada where he’d been apprehended for a separate crime.

And All the Rest…

San Quentin’s death row also houses Randy Kraft (the Freeway Killer), Rodney Alcala (the Dating Game Killer) and David Carpenter (the Trailside Killer). Carpenter has been on death row so long (since 1988) that he was sentenced to be executed in the gas chamber.

They say “good fences make good neighbors.” In the case of Daniel’s neighbors, maybe the expression should include “strong bars.”

The idea of interacting with these men would terrify most of us. I’m not worried about my friend’s safety though. He doesn’t seem to have any concerns. He has no gang ties. Also, he’s well known as the guy whose case is attached to the Orange County informant scandal.

Daniel has explained to me that on death row, no one goes into details about their cases. He prefers that. He can enjoy a person’s company and get to know him for who he is today. The guy in the next cell could have committed the most monstrous acts imaginable, but that won’t change Daniel’s opinion of him. He’ll just see a guy who gave him a shot of coffee when he first moved in.

Home Sweet Home

Daniel Wozniak has been at San Quentin State Prison for over a month now and I know many of my readers have questions about how he’s settling in on death row.

For the first couple of weeks, Daniel was in the SHU. That’s the Special Handling Unit, where prisoners are sent when they have gotten into some type of behavior trouble in their regular housing unit. Apparently, San Quentin also uses the SHU as a holding unit for incoming prisoners.

When I read about that in Daniel’s first letter from DR (death row), I was concerned for his welfare. San Quentin seemed intimidating enough without being placed in the most dangerous “time-out” area in California.

It turned out this only meant Daniel would be unable to make phone calls or have visits until he’d been processed into one of the regular DR housing units.

I can imagine that taking away a prisoner’s phone and visiting privileges would be a genuine punishment, but I had imagined something scarier. Think Daryl on The Walking Dead being held prisoner by Negan and the Saviors.

The truth is, the living conditions at the Orange County Jail are a lot worse than even the SHU at San Quentin. I think that is the case with most prisons in California. They are all better living environments than county jails because they are designed for long term stays.

Daniel was in the OC Jail for six and a half years. That place was designed for people to stay months, not years. So for him, SQ is a big improvement. He’s been institutionalized for so long that within a week he was making a makeshift clothes drying line for his cell (using melted and re-shaped bar soap to stick homemade thread to a flat cement wall).

Jail MacGyver?

Living Conditions On Death Row

Daniel wrote me that the food in SQ is miles above and beyond the cuisine available at the Orange County Jail. It is higher quality and the portions are plentiful. The expression “three hots and a cot” is fairly accurate. He’s brought a hot breakfast and the fixings for his lunch in the morning. Then there is another hot meal served at dinner. So two “hots,” and a cold.

As far as the “cot” goes, Daniel is a lot happier with his bed now, too. It’s no Posturepedic, but compared to the “yoga mat” thin mattresses at the county jail, it’s an improvement.

For the first time in years, now that he’s in prison Daniel gets to enjoy the “great outdoors.” He got sunburned during the first week because he hadn’t been in the sun for so long. He also told me about still choosing to take his yard time one day, even though it was pouring rain. He thought he’d be the only prisoner willing to stand in the rain for hours (once they go out, they have to stay out the entire duration of yard time), but many inmates still chose getting soaked to being a cell.

I can’t say I blame them.

Daniel was moved to his assigned cell early in November and he was able to use the telephone again. He sounded the same as always. Chatty, funny, and filled with interesting stories. He’s pleased because he has access to both the extensive law library and the well-stocked regular library.

Today we talked about a “Critical Thinking” class he attended.  The topic of discussion was the Dunning-Kruger Effect  , which is basically when people think they are a lot smarter than they actually are.

He told me about working out in the yard while “Highway to the Danger Zone” and other 80s classics were played over a loud speaker. He played Chinese checkers with another inmate and a psychiatrist. Since arriving at San Quentin, he got a physical and visited the dentist. He’s also been to therapy.

Does all this mean that it’s a treat to be sentenced to death row in California? No. Of course not. But Daniel Wozniak was already institutionalized long before he arrived on DR.

There is no way I would trade my life for Daniel’s. Sure, I don’t like traffic on the freeway. I’m not a fan of waiting in line at the grocery store. Paying bills is no treat, and my email box is always filled with junk.

But if facing the day to day minutiae is what makes it possible to be with my family and have control over my own life, I’ll choose that over being kept in a cage any day.

The meditation and focused breathing class he attended this afternoon sounded kind of cool,  though.

Daniel wishes he could go back in time and undo the horrible things he did. However, it isn’t because he feels sorry for himself in any way. So many people’s lives have been destroyed because of his selfishness and stupidity, and he does live with that guilt every day.

Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi don’t get to eat three meals a day. They don’t get a good night’s sleep. They don’t get to read books or listen to music. They can’t take classes or work out or play Chinese checkers. They’ll never feel the sun or rain again. Sam and Julie can’t send letters to their family and friends. They won’t get any phone calls or visits.

Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi had their lives stolen from them, and the two of them were stolen from their loved ones.

California 2016 Death Penalty Propositions

On November 9, California voted on two death penalty related propositions:

Proposition 62 was to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. It lost with 54% of the vote.

Proposition 66 was to change procedures governing state court challenges to death sentences.

It won by 51% of the vote.

Daniel Wozniak’s life won’t be changed much with these election results…at least not for now. It does show that California isn’t quite ready to give up the option of capital punishment.

I don’t agree with the death penalty, but I understand why someone might feel that Daniel’s current living environment isn’t quite enough of a punishment for what he did.

Sentencing Day Part Two: Victim Impact Statements

Judge Conley made quick work of striking down defense attorney Scott Sanders’ motion for the removal of the death penalty in Daniel Wozniak’s sentence.

Conley explained why he planned to go along with the jury’s decision to choose death:

Daniel had no previous crimes or signs of violence in his past. The jury had seen Daniel’s performances in Nine on the weekend of the murders and Daniel appeared fine. The jury rejected any argument that Daniel had been manipulated by Rachel Buffett. Judge Conley also stated there was no evidence from Daniel’s family to support him. His strongest reason for following the recommendation of the jury was that Daniel murdered two of his own friends so he could “get married and honeymoon in style.”

At this point in the sentencing hearing, Jude Conley hadn’t actually said the words “death sentence,” but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind Daniel was about to be sent to San Quentin.

Victim Impact Statements Prior To Sentencing

When court resumed after lunch (I ate crackers, cheese, an apple and a chocolate protein bar), it was time for the victim impact statements.

Now was the opportunity for those who loved Sam and Julie to speak, unhindered, on how the murders directly affected them. Considering the number of people who came to court that day, I was expecting a lot more people to speak, but only four family members ended up giving statements.

Sam Herr’s Family Victim Impact Statements

Sam’s cousin Leah was up first.

She talked of how she and “Sammy” were more like siblings than cousins. She described Sam as kind, loving and generous. She acknowledged Sam’s “difficult” time as a young adult, but her cousin had redefined himself in the Army and was trying to “pay society back” for his mistakes.

Leah imagined her own nine-year-old daughter speaking directly to Daniel Wozniak, and how the child would tell him that her uncle was only trying to help him and would have loaned Daniel the money.

Sam’s aunt Miriam spoke next. She said she should be able to speak for seven hours, one hour for each year the Herr family waited for justice.

Miriam’s anger toward defense attorney Scott Sanders was palpable. She accused Sanders of trying to gain his own glory from Daniel’s trial. Sam’s aunt finished her statement with a hope that Sam and Julie would be guarding the gates of heaven to keep Daniel from entering when he dies.

Steve Herr’s Statements

The final member of Sam’s family to speak was his father, Steve Herr. His wife Raquel stood next to him.

Steve made a request of all of Sam’s fellow veterans who’d come to court that day. He wanted them to join him and Sam’s mom at the podium. I think there were eight of Sam’s Army friends flanking the Herrs and supporting them during Steve’s statement.

He began by thanking Judge Conley, Matt Murphy, and the Costa Mesa Police for all their hard work. He expressed sympathy for the Kibuishi family.

Steve Herr said he could speak for hours about his son Sam, who he and Raquel loved with all their hearts.

A letter was read from Army Capt. Benjamin Kilgore, Sam’s troop leader in Afghanistan. Capt. Kilgore praised Sam’s character and bravery as a U.S. soldier.

Steve Herr looked at Daniel and reminded him about the man he’d murdered, stating that Daniel Wozniak is the “poster boy” for the need of a death penalty in California.

At the end of his victim impact statement, Steve Herr voiced that his “only regret” was that the state of California wouldn’t let him “kill this coward” himself.

Do you think it would make Steve Herr feel a little better if he could punch Daniel in the face really hard just one time? Daniel is my friend, but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge any of Sam’s or Julie’s people the opportunity to punch him in the face. I don’t think Daniel would even complain about that. I really don’t.

 You know what though? I think some of them would trade the chance to punch Daniel if there was an opportunity to punch Scott Sanders in the face. I’m not saying it’s deserved, but there is a lot of anger aimed at Scott.

Julie Kibuishi’s Family Victim Impact Statements

The final victim impact statement was made by June Kibuishi, Julie’s mother, while her husband Masa stood next to her at the podium. She looked directly at Daniel and began, “On May 22, 2010, you took my beautiful precious daughter’s life,” by murdering Julie and then disgracing her to use her as a decoy.

June Kibuishi talked about how her family came from Japan more than thirty years ago so they could give their children a better life. The Kibuishis taught their kids to be good people with loving hearts, but June’s own heart was, “ripped apart when (she) found out what happened to (her) baby.”

Julie’s mother sobbed as she asked Daniel Wozniak how he could “take away (her) baby.” She berated Daniel for showing no remorse or guilt in the courtroom, instead smiling and enjoying being the center of attention, and “if anyone deserves the death penalty, it’s him.”

June may have been the only Kibuishi family member to speak, but she packed enough of an emotional wallop for her entire family.

I’ve wondered how the families made the decision of who would talk at Daniel’s sentencing hearing. Were there some family members who knew they wouldn’t be able to even get words out, or others who though they might explode with anger if they looked at, and spoke directly to, Daniel Wozniak?

It makes me think of footage from the Jeffrey Dahmer trial. A woman who was the sister of one of his victims had to be restrained by deputies when she came at Dahmer screaming, “Jeffery, I hate you!” No, I am not comparing Daniel to Jeffrey Dahmer in any way. I’m just contemplating the level of anger a person must feel in that situation, and how challenging it would be to keep your calm.

Daniel did look directly at the speakers during their statements. Well, actually I couldn’t see him during Steve Herr’s statement because of all the Army guys (Not that I’m complaining about the view at that point).

Daniel Wozniak’s Response To The Victim Impact Statements

I know many people probably saw Daniel as expressionless because of what appeared to be a lack of emotion on his face. One journalist asked me if I think Daniel is a psychopath. I said no. I don’t.

I think he was just really listening, and probably trying not to have any expression on his face. If he cried, people would think he felt sorry for himself or, worse yet, he was “acting.” I saw a man who is genuinely contrite, but that’s probably because I know he is.

Judge Conley Sentences Daniel Wozniak

It was 2:15 PM on September 25, 2016, when Judge Conley read the official sentencing.

Daniel Wozniak was given two sentences of twenty-five years to life (the extra sentences were unexpected), and the death penalty.

He was to be sent to San Quentin State Prison and placed in California’s only death row facility within ten days of the sentencing.

Before court adjourned, Judge Conley set one final hearing for the following Friday. This was to settle the specifics of the financial restitution that Daniel Wozniak will pay to the Sam’s and Julie’s families.

Prosecutor Matt Murphy was so enthusiastic about getting Daniel on his way to San Quentin, he suggested Daniel be driven the over four hundred miles right away and then be driven back to appear in court the next week. Judge Conley turned down that plan, but I suspect Matt Murphy would have offered to drive Daniel to San Quentin himself.

Let’s just take a moment to imagine Matt Murphy behind the wheel of what I’d imagine would be a black Mercedes M-class, a shackled Daniel Wozniak riding shotgun. What station would be on Matt’s radio? I’d like to imagine him picking an old standards station. I can just see the two of them on the open highway, both singing along to Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.”

Daniel Wozniak Leaves The Orange County Jail For San Quentin’s Death Row

 Today I received my last letter from Daniel at the OC Jail. He’d written it just after I left on Sunday night. He said that as soon as our visit ended, the deputies told him to prepare to leave or “roll up,” if you’re using the vernacular of the incarcerated. That probably means they drove to San Quentin in the dark. I wonder if Daniel slept at all. I think he was planning to stay awake and see as much as he could see.

Some of you won’t be happy to learn this, but Daniel isn’t scared or worried to be going to death row. He has a pretty good sense of what it will be like in there and already has friends “on the row” who he met when he was in the OC Jail.

Also, once a person is actually in prison, there is access to a lot more creature comforts. So, he’s not really worse off. He did say he’d miss seeing me every Monday, but he’s pleased to have access to the San Quentin law library where he can find information for his own case, but more so, to help other inmates with their legal issues.

Daniel Wozniak will never be able to make up for what he took from the Herr family and the Kibuishi family, but all he can do now is try to move forward, and be his best self from here on out. I think that’s the most anyone can do.

Sentencing Day

It’s official. Daniel Wozniak is on his way to death row.

Literally. As I’m writing this on Monday, October 3rd, he’s being moved to San Quentin.

Normally, I visit him on Mondays.

Daniel didn’t know precisely what time he’d be leaving today because inmates aren’t given an exact time of departure. It’s a security risk.

However, if he was still at the OC Jail, Daniel was scheduled to have an early morning day room time today. He told me he would call me during day room (which he’s done pretty much every day for the past two years). If there was no phone call, then he was already gone.

No phone call.

2b54199e-8626-4812-a13a-b72b66714537I’ve spent a lot of time with Daniel this past week, so I’m behind in getting a post out. I’ve been visiting him officially as a member of the media. That meant I was able to visit him during off hours, and for much longer visits.

I left the Orange County Jail at 10 PM last night. The visiting room can be a little spooky when the place is empty. More about all that in another post.

Anyhoo – Let’s get to Daniel Wozniak’s sentencing hearing.

The Sentencing Hearing of Daniel Wozniak

On Friday, September 23, 2016, Judge Conley did the expected. He followed the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Daniel Wozniak to San Quentin’s death row.

8cced811-57d3-46f2-b8f5-73532798beacThe courtroom was packed that day. Many of the seats were filled with Sam’s and Julie’s family and friends. Relatives had even flown in to witness Daniel Wozniak’s sentencing. The Herr family brought an Army battalion (I’ll explain that when we get to the victim impact statements in the next post).

The rest of the place was filled with reporters, producers, news cameras, photographers, lookie-loos, and at least four jury members (three sat next to me and the forewoman sat between Sam’s mom and his aunt). There were also three extra Sherrif’s deputies.

Then there was me.

I felt really small and out of place. It was an odd experience knowing that everyone else in the crowd wanted my friend to die. The atmosphere in the courtroom was almost jovial. Before the hearing started, and during the breaks, people seemed cheery, energized and excited. It was as though this was an audience about to see a sold out performance of Hamilton. (I wish.)

I can understand why people hate Daniel so much. My own Facebook feed was riddled with posts from theatre friends with comments like ”it’s about time” and ”if anyone deserves to die it’s this guy,” interspersed with links to newspaper stories about the sentencing.

I had similar views when I first heard all about Daniel Wozniak’s crime. I wasn’t wishing death upon the man, but geez, he murdered a vet.  He dismembered the guy. He murdered an innocent girl to put the blame on the vet. He did all this to pay for his wedding and honeymoon. Yikes!

That is the prosecution’s story, and a lot of people believe it completely. Daniel Wozniak has never spoken out in his defense. The video footage of Daniel’s confession is all most people have ever heard. It’s not a far leap to assume that Daniel Wozniak is an evil and unredeemable sub-human.

I don’t believe the entirety of the prosecution’s story though, and I do speak with Daniel all the time.  I know a different person from the monster described in court.

Does that mean I don’t want him to go to San Quentin’s Death Row?

Actually, I’m okay with it.

If the Herr family and the Kibuishi family got some closure, relief, vengeance even, from Daniel receiving the death sentence, then I am not going to argue with that.

As Daniel’s friend, though, I’m glad we are in California. The last time someone was put to death in this state was 2006, and there are over 700 death row inmates ahead of Daniel.  Also, California just might abolish the death penalty in November’s election.

I don’t want Daniel to be put to death. I believe that he still has something to offer to the world (or at least his fellow inmates).  Daniel knows he will never make up for what he took from the Herr and Kibuishi families. But I’m going to use that old death penalty opponent’s argument and point out that taking Daniel’s life won’t bring back Sam and Julie.

Daniel Wozniak will likely never see the inside of San Quentin’s execution chamber. His death sentence is really more of a life-behind-bars sentence. It is also only the beginning of what will be years and years of appeals.

And yes, I will be taking some road trips up North to visit death row.

Sanders’ Last Motion

Defense attorney Scott Sanders fought the death penalty sentence until the last second.  He even filed another one of his famous (or infamous, if you ask the Orange County DA’s office) motions that same day, requesting the death penalty be dropped or Daniel be given a new penalty trial.

Sanders argued that Matt Murphy and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office have shown obvious inconsistencies in what has been said about Daniel’s ex-fiancée, Rachel Buffett, and her possible role in the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.

It turns out, in his indictment against Rachel, Murphy claimed that he knew she was involved, or at least had complete knowledge of the murders, and that she definitely tried to help Daniel cover them up.

During Daniel’s trial, Rachel came off as an innocent victim, the deceived fiancée. Upon learning the horrible truth, Rachel Buffett behaved like a dutiful citizen, and was instrumental when it came to helping the police obtain the evidence needed to prosecute Daniel.

So which Rachel is the correct one… and how can the OCDA go on the record saying both of these descriptions are true?

If investigators believe Rachel was a conspirator, shouldn’t Daniel’s jury have been told? If you remember from Daniel’s trial, in closing arguments Matt Murphy said the jury could go ahead and assume Rachel is guilty of something, but don’t let that change anyone’s opinions about Daniel.

I think Scott Sanders’ point is that Daniel received the death penalty because of the special circumstances surrounding his case, specifically the motive of financial gain. But what if the motive wasn’t money?

Scott Sanders wanted an opportunity to re-question Detective Jose Morales regarding the credibility of his testimony about Rachel’s possible involvement in the murders. Sanders didn’t believe Morales had been entirely credible. Perhaps the detective actually did learn some pertinent information from the jail house snitch who was put in place to manipulate Daniel into talking.

Sanders reiterated that the defense has fought tooth and nail to have access to the informant information. He even predicted that more information would conveniently be discovered after Daniel has been sentenced.

Scott Sanders hasn’t earned many friends in the courtroom. His statements often elicited eye-rolling and groans of disgust from the majority of the onlookers (including those jurors next to me). Matt Murphy even enjoyed getting in a few barbs by making fun of Scott Sanders verbosity and claiming that if Sanders wasn’t “accusing people of misconduct,” he’d only speak for five minutes.  The crowd guffawed at that one.

Umm Matt, you talked way more than Scott did during the trial. Just sayin’.

Scott Sanders also wanted the opportunity to question the informants themselves to see if they had any favorable statements about their observations of Daniel Wozniak.

I’m sure the jury wouldn’t have cared either way.

Judge Conley called this a “sleepwalker scenario,” claiming it wasn’t important if Daniel “did good deeds, but didn’t know it.”

You completely confused me with that argument, Your Honor. Just because Daniel doesn’t testify about how he often helps out other inmates, doesn’t mean he’s unaware that he does it. The only way the jury could learn about Daniel’s “good deeds” would be from the observations of others.

Judge Conley also accused Scott Sanders of trying to get in the “back door” by filing this last minute brief. He then struck down the entirety of Sanders’ brief, calling it “untimely.”

Since his client was about to be sentenced, though, I’d say Sanders’ continued attempts to save Daniel from death row seemed pretty timely.

The death penalty was not dismissed and a new trial will not be granted.

In fact, Judge Conley acknowledged that there was misconduct in Daniel Wozniak’s case, but he still believed that Daniel got a fair trial.

Wait. What?? Someone got that statement on the record, right?

Clearly nothing was gong to derail Daniel’s train to execution town.

Coming Next…

I’ll tell you about the victim impact statements in part two of this post. It won’t take long, I promise.

Reenactment Time

You guys know I’m a fervent viewer of true crime television. I TiVo “season pass” about 80% of the shows on the Investigation Discover Channel. I am an ID Addict.

There are two main types of TV true-crime shows. There are the “news” shows and the “reenactment” shows.

Dateline, 20/20, and 48 Hours are examples of “news” shows. They are more serious and faithful to the facts. By the time an episode of one of these shows is aired on the ID Channel, though, it was likely shown on its major TV network a year earlier. A slightly edited and repackaged version will air as “Dateline on ID,” for example.

Then there are the reenactment shows. I’m not sure how many of them are produced directly for the ID Network, but they obviously have a lower production budget, and often seem to be filmed outside of California.

I’m noticing more and more are coming from Canada. You can tell as soon as someone says the word “about,” or if they show lush green grass. Our drought and watering restrictions have made California pretty brown these days.

Both the news and the reenactment shows tell stories using interviews and news footage spliced together in a montage of information. Often, a law or psychology expert is consulted as well.

It’s the reenactment programs, however, that bring to life previously unexplored possibilities. If a 20/20 correspondent interviews a police officer involved in the case, the officer might discuss theories that arose from the investigation. A reenactment program will take those theories and make them a reality. They act out the scenes right in front of the viewer’s eyes.

The Perfect Murder Reenactment

The first reenactment show to cover Daniel’s case was The Perfect Murder. The title of the episode was “Curtain Call.”

Thank you Twitter follower Anthony P. for letting me (and Daniel) know about the airing.

 The Perfect Murder is only in its first season, and I honestly thought it would be one of the old-timers like Nightmare Next Door that would first tap into the plethora of drama circling around this case.

I have to assume that the title of the series is meant to be ironic, because the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi were far from perfect in their planning or deed.

Overall, I thought The Perfect Murder made a decent attempt at telling the story, but there were certain aspects of the show, either done for dramatic effect or from lack of knowledge, that could have been confusing for someone who was learning of this crime for the first time.

The show took Daniel’s confession as absolute fact, and then had lookalikes act it out. This included the stories Daniel made up when he was first questioned.

The Costa Mesa Police originally suspected Sam Herr of murdering Julie Kibuishi, whose body was found in his apartment. That is how it was set up to look, and it was one of the early lies Daniel told to the police. Viewers of The Perfect Murder got to see all of those investigation theories actually brought to life, and I found it disconcerting to watch a drunken lookalike Sam being abusive and violent to a lookalike Julie.

Who am I to worry about this? No one, I guess. It was pointed out to me that I watch these types of shows all the time, and normally I view those reenactments as merely engaging television.

Steve Herr and June Kibuishi were both interviewed for the program, so they most likely signed off on what the show was going to put out to the public.

This crime already has so many twists and turns to it, and I don’t necessarily trust people to pay complete attention to what they are watching (or reading, for that matter). I bet if you questioned a hundred people who saw that episode, you’d find at least a one or two of them think everything they saw acted out was fact.

The episode “Curtain Call” gave the impression that the murder and decapitation of Sam Herr took place in the same theatre where Daniel and Rachel were performing in the musical Nine. It showed a blood-covered Daniel washing up at a theatre and then changing immediately into his costume (while looking in a mirror and laughing evilly, of course).

I know that it adds an extra layer of horror knowing the murders of Sam and Julie took place on the same weekend that Daniel and Rachel were performing in Nine, but these events did not happen in the same location.

Maybe nobody else cares about this, but Sam was not murdered at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company where Nine was being performed. That’s the theatre where I first met Daniel. Our little theatre didn’t even have an upstairs. The reenactment Hunger Artists looked similar to the real place, albeit nicer, but I don’t really like people thinking that those of us who ran Hunger Artists were a bunch of unaware idiots who allowed a murder to take place right above our stage.

In reality, Sam Herr was murdered at the Liberty Theater at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, where, later, the majority of his remains were found.

file-aug-30-12-37-59-pm_300x327Did it make for exciting television? Sure. Scenes of Daniel and Rachel singing lovingly to each other interspersed with images of Daniel cleaning off a bloody saw… that makes for high drama. But if that didn’t happen, what else didn’t happen?

You readers know I don’t entirely believe Daniel’s confession, especially when it comes to the motivation behind the murders. Even officers who worked on the case think Daniel is still not being completely truthful about everything that happened to Sam and Julie, or who was involved.

pmr1_300x238The actor playing Daniel did do his homework. He must have put in some real time (no pun intended) watching clips of Daniel’s police interview and videos of Daniel performing in Nine. The clothes, the way he adjusted his tie on stage, and that crazy laugh all seemed pretty accurate. He’s a better singer than real Daniel, though.

I wonder if The Perfect Murder had a costumer working on the show or if the actors were asked to just bring in their own clothes. It all depends on their budget I guess. Lookalike Daniel was wearing a pretty accurate rendition of the ugly shirt real Daniel wore in his confession video. Well done.

I was most impressed with the Rachel lookalike. I took some screen shots of my TV and sent the pictures of the reenactment actors to Daniel in jail. He thought the actress playing Rachel was spot on visually. She also had a lovely singing voice and, if my memory serves me correctly, real Rachel is a talented singer (she’s better than Daniel, too).

file-aug-30-11-53-26-am_300x274The romantic proposal scene between Daniel and Rachel also didn’t actually happen in real life. It makes for good TV, though, and really emphasizes how psychotic Daniel is meant to seem as he goes from slipping a diamond ring on the finger of an excited and blindfolded Rachel (a glass of champagne in her other hand) to committing double murder.

The show seemed to run out of steam near the end when they showed a snippet of Daniel’s trial. They definitely ran out of visually accurate actors. Prosecutor Matt Murphy isn’t bald in real life. Public defender Scott Sanders is in his 40s, not his late 60s.  Oh, and Judge Conley isn’t African American.

pmr10_300x199 2016-08-28-02-21-18_300x146 2016-08-28-00-46-35_300x193

So, for those readers who have just joined us after seeing The Perfect Murder, and then Googled Daniel’s name, I hope you’ll read this blog from the beginning, keep an open mind, and remember that in the case of a reenactment crime show, seeing shouldn’t always mean believing.