If You’re Going To San Quentin, Be Sure Not To Wear Anything In Your Hair (Part Two: Arrival)

I woke up pretty early Saturday morning. Mornings are not my friend, so normally it takes at least two snooze sessions to get me out of bed. But the morning of February 11, my eyes popped open the second my iPhone “ripples” alarm went off.

I tried to eat something. My stomach was in knots. Even choking down a protein bar was a challenge. My hotel room had a microwave, so I made myself a cup of herbal tea.

I’d planned my outfit before I even left Orange County, but I was still nervous about all those San Quentin apparel rules.

I had on grey pinstripe pants, a light blue button-down shirt with tiny white polka dots, and a black cotton cardigan sweater. I made sure to wear a bra without an underwire (like I need a bra that supportive anyway). I also checked that my shirt wasn’t see-through.

I usually wear a layering tank top under a button shirt, but the San Quentin dress code specifically forbids tank tops. I assumed they meant no tank tops as your actual shirt, but the rules for the x-ray procedure state, “You must be down to your last layer of clothing,” and I wasn’t taking any chances on my first visit. I wonder if a camisole would still count as a “tank top.”

My visit was scheduled for 9:00 am. I gave myself ample time to get from my hotel to the prison.

After my practice run the day before, it only took about fifteen minutes to drive there. I was parked in the visitors’ lot by 8:30 am.

The lot was busier than the day before, but it wasn’t a madhouse like I’d feared. Considering that San Quentin State Prison can house over three thousand inmates, I expected the place to be packed on a Saturday.

At The Visitors’ Intake

There were about two dozen people standing around, or sitting on the wooden benches. About ninety percent of the visitors were women, and a lot of them were probably moms of inmates. I did not envy them visiting their sons at San Quentin.

Camaraderie

I sat in an empty spot on the bench closest to the entrance and asked the women sitting nearby if this is where you wait when you have an appointment. One woman nodded and smiled. Another told me she liked my hair. I thanked her and made a comment about all the clothing color rules and how I was happy that didn’t apply to hair.

The women laughed (yup, that’s where I got the idea to write that in the last post), and the four of us started up a casual conversation. The lady sitting next to me leaned closer and gestured toward a young woman standing against the wall. “She’s never going to get in with jeans,” she tisked.

The place started filling up with more visitors, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. Along one wall were two glass doors an equal distance apart that led to the check-in room and metal detector. Even though the doors went into the same room, it appeared that each door had its own check-in station.

The doors were locked and could only be opened when a guard pushed a security buzzer from inside the room.  The door would buzz; a visitor would open the door and go inside. How anyone knew it was their turn, though, was beyond me.

I put out a general inquiry to the women around me, asking if they were also visiting condemned prisoners. This seems to be the official term used in San Quentin correspondences when referring to death row inmates.

I wonder if that sounds any less threatening?

 It turned out they were all visiting general population inmates and I was sitting on the wrong end of the building.

The Death Row Visitors’ Section

I made my through the people and past the doors to the death row visitors’ section (no wristband needed), and noticed there was an invisible line of division between the death row visitors and everyone else. It was less crowed at this end and it looked like one of the doors/check-in stations was designated for death row only.

A pretty thirty-something woman with perfectly straightened long dark hair smiled at me when I sat down on the bench. Her heavy “hit the town” makeup was perfectly applied. She looked like she was going on a date

“I was on the wrong side,” I shared with her.  “This is the condemned side, right?”

Organizing The Visitors

She nodded and asked my appointment time. She was also scheduled for 9:00 am, and she explained to me how the process works, for which I was extremely grateful.  It reminded me of when I used to help other visitors at the OC Jail by explaining the workings of the lockers. Oh memories.

Within your time slot, you check in by order of arrival. The first person to arrive with a 9 am appointment, for example, is the first person to be checked in during that appointment time. It’s up to the visitors themselves to keep track of the order.

“Hit the town makeup” was the first 9 am to arrive that morning. It turns out you are actually supposed to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment. I was informed that the prison was running uncharacteristically late that morning, and the 8:30 visitors hadn’t all been checked in yet. I was used to visits running late from going to the OC Jail. I wasn’t bothered. That was the norm.

I found out later that Daniel had started to worry when it got to 9:15 and I hadn’t shown up yet. He’d gone to ask one of the guards to take a look outside for me, but realized he didn’t know my current hair color.

Now that I was finally in the correct waiting area, there were four women ahead of me for the 9:00 time. The one who was supposed to be second said she’d noticed me when she got there earlier (the hair color again), and that meant I’d arrived before her. So everyone agreed that I would be the second 9 AM visit to check in. There might not be honor among thieves, but there is honor among inmate visitors.

Getting Through The Door

When it was my turn, I couldn’t seem to muster the hand/ear coordination it took to pull open the door when the buzzer sounds. After my third attempt, someone else opened it for me.

On visiting day two, I handled the door fine. On that first day though, I was still nervous about getting through security. I’d already seen one woman have to come back out two times because of the number of keys on her key ring. She finally just put her keys in a locker. She was allowed to take the locker key in.

I’d taken my car key off my key ring at the hotel. That was the only key I had on me. It was inside a clear plastic sandwich bag alongside my driver’s license, a small comb with no handle, and twenty-five dollars in quarters and singles.

You’re allowed to bring fifty dollars, but I didn’t think I’d need that much in the way of vending machine food. You can also buy photo tokens for two dollars from a machine next to the check-in. Daniel told me he’d already ordered tokens, so I didn’t need to get any this time.

I saw a couple of women carrying clear plastic purses instead of sandwich bags. I’m going to look into getting one of those.

The guard looked at my driver’s license. A second later, he handed me a print out with Daniel’s picture and his information on it.  There was also general name and address information about me. Then, the guard looked at me and pointed at my head.

“Sorry. No sunglasses.”

“Yikes. I’m so lame,” I sputtered because I’d completely forgotten about them after pushing them up on my head when I came inside the building. My fair skin immediately flushed like I’d just downed a double shot of chilled Patron. “They’re pretty cheap. I can throw them away if you want.” I pulled the sunglasses off my head and headed toward a large trashcan.

The guard chuckled and pulled out a small plastic basket that contained a few other forbidden items.  A pen. A cell phone. I remembered that Daniel told me his mother had to take the bobby pins out of her hair.

I placed my sunglasses in the basket and thanked him for not making me go back to put them in a locker. He told me I could get them on my way out.

I went over to the x-ray machine and stuck my sandwich bag in a plastic bin. It headed down the conveyor belt to be thoroughly examined.

For my first attempt through the metal detector, I’d forgotten to take off my shoes. I was wearing Doc Martin Mary Janes with the big silver buckles, which obviously set the buzzer off. After swiping the wand over me, and discovering my shoes, the guard started to laugh. He was the second one to find my antics amusing, and he wouldn’t be the last. I took off my shoes and put them on the belt to follow my coin and comb bag.

I chided myself internally, “Have you not been on an airplane in the past sixteen years? Hello?”

I cleared the metal detector on my second go, and I balanced on one leg and then the other to put my shoes back on.

I found out when I came back the next day that I should have received a wrist stamp at this point in the process.  I also noticed a sign on the second day that said, “Don’t forget your stamp.”

Oh well. The stamp is obviously another measure to insure inmates don’t escape.  I guess an inmate and a visitor could attempt to trade clothes during a visit. This was not a concern with Daniel and me.

The two of us wearing each other’s clothes is more of a hilarious mental picture than an actual escape threat.

Behind The Walls

I’d made it through prison security and was pointed toward an exit that leads back outdoors. Even though I was just a few feet from where I’d entered the visitors’ building, I was now officially inside the gates of San Quentin State Prison.

I walked toward the massive guard tower that stands between the prison and the outside world. The sun bounced off its whitewashed bricks. I squinted and shielded my eyes with my hand. I wished I had my sunglasses. My eyes are super sensitive to the light even on a cloudy day, and that day was bright and sunny.

The air was crisp and fresh coming off the bay. It was a beautiful day.  But I was looking forward to spending it indoors. Locked inside a little cage with my friend, who is a murderer.

(Outside San Quentin photo credit: Nancy Mullane)

If You’re Going To San Quentin, Be Sure Not To Wear Anything In Your Hair (Part One: Prep)

In California, a lot more effort is required to visit a prisoner who is on death row versus visiting someone in a county jail.

When Daniel Wozniak was in the Orange County Jail, there were rules and regulations that had to be followed to visit. Daniel had to put me on his “visitors list.” During the visit, I needed to put my possessions in a locker, go through a basic metal detector, etc. My visits with Daniel at County were non-contact visits, but the contact-visit people went through the exact same process I did.

Getting Into San Quentin (Without Committing A Crime)

San Quentin State Prison is a completely different animal. Just north of San Francisco, San Quentin is the oldest prison in California (opened in 1852), and it’s the only one to house a death row for men.  Prison is much more intimidating than jail, and there are so many steps necessary to visit an inmate.

Long before I could actually visit Daniel at his new home, I had to be approved by the prison. The inmate needs to request a visiting form, and then he mails it to the visitor. Daniel sent me the form, I filled it out, and mailed it to the sergeant in charge of visiting. After about a month (the normal waiting period), Daniel was informed I’d gotten the A-OK, and it was his job to pass that information on to me.

Once a visitor is approved, an appointment needs to be made. In the OC Jail, visits were granted on a first come, first served basis. On visiting days, an inmate was allowed only one visiting session a day. I often saw people being turned away by the deputies because someone else had beaten them to the punch.

There was no fear of that happening at San Quentin. I needed to make an appointment. Normally appointments are done by telephone, with assigned days and times to call and reserve for the upcoming weekend. However, since I live in Orange County, which is a six to eight-hour drive from San Quentin, I wanted to set up an appointment farther in advance.

For that, the visitor can make a visiting request by mail, if it is done at least one month ahead. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope if you’d like a direct reply, otherwise the sergeant will inform the inmate that an appointment has been scheduled.

I first learned about San Quentin being on lockdown a couple of weeks ago because I was added to a visitor’s mailing list when my request was accepted.

I was approved for extended visits on both days I’d requested. I was scheduled from 9 am – 2 pm, on Feb 10th and 11th.

I booked a hotel in the city of San Rafael, which is about five miles from San Quentin State Prison. No surprise – the hotel did not list San Quentin  in the local attractions section on its website. “We have a pool, a weight room, and we’re just a hop, skip and a jump from California’s death row.”  Conveniently, I have some very close friends who live in the San Francisco area, so I made plans for my non-death row time as well.

The Rules

Before I could pack my suitcase, I needed to learn a completely different set of rules from the ones for visitors to county jail. The restrictions on clothing were much more stringent. This is from the CDCR’s 28-page guide booklet for visitors:

At least the restrictions about color were limited to clothing and not hair, because I was sporting an array of all the Barbie furniture hues at that time. Phew!

Practice Run

For this first visit, I decided to drive from Orange County instead of flying. I wanted to have control over as much as possible. I might not be allowed to wear chambray blue or shower shoes, but I can make sure I don’t have to deal with a cancelled flight or lost luggage, and I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a cab or an Uber to get me to the prison on time.

Obviously, I had some concerns that I would somehow, some way, mess things up. I didn’t want to be denied the visit after all this preparation. I was also really looking forward to seeing Daniel again, and I know he felt the same way about seeing me. This was going to be our first unrecorded conversation.

I figured I’d drive up a day early so I could do a practice run and make sure I would be able to find San Quentin  from my hotel. Anyone who knows me would not put it past me to get lost, even though the prison was less than six miles away. Daniel told me his mom got all twisted around when she’d visited him the first time. He couldn’t understand how that was possible, since the prison, which occupies 275 acres on Point San Quentin, juts right out into North San Francisco Bay. “How can you miss the place?” he asked me on the telephone.

I’ll tell you how.

Your car’s navigation system just drops you onto a little tree lined road and says, “You’ve arrived at your destination.”

There were little blue and yellow and white beach cottages along the road and I was reminded of trips to Catalina Island.  I was not at my destination. I couldn’t even see the prison from that spot.

At least I knew to head towards the water. I started to see the prison peeking through the trees, but I had no idea how to get to it, and find its “front door.”

I ended up on E. Sir Frances Drake Blvd, where I, too, felt like I was attempting to circumnavigate a large land mass. I finally found a small road that went downhill into the prison. Admittedly, I was pretty sure this wasn’t the main entrance, but at that point it was the only entrance I could see.

The guard, who stood in front of a guard shack to my right, opened the gate for me. I couldn’t exactly tell if he wanted me to stop or not, but I figured I’d better ere on the side of safety. I needed directions anyway, so I rolled down my passenger side window and asked if this was the correct entrance for visiting.

“Who are you visiting?” He wasn’t hiding his irritation.

“A prisoner. A death row prisoner. Umm, not today though. Tomorrow. Today I’m doing a practice run, so I know where to go tomorrow. Is this where I go?”

“No. You need to turn your car around.”

I pointed to an open area just inside the gate. “Can I just pull in there and flip around?” My car is not small and I am not tall. At this point, there were other vehicles lined up behind me, including a UPS truck.

“No.”

“OK. Sorry.” I proceeded to do a fifteen-point turn to get my car heading back to Frances Drake.

I ended up driving kind of alongside the prison looking for another entrance road. Somehow, I ended up missing the surprisingly small sign marking the turn I needed to take.

That’s when I got stuck driving across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The sky was clear and blue. It had rained the day before, but now the sun was out. It was a lovely scenic view… That’s what I told myself to keep from feeling like an idiot.

It wasn’t until I headed back across the bridge that I finally got a full view of the prison in all its glory. The place is huge and menacing. Photographs don’t do it justice. I can’t imagine being driven through its gates and knowing it would be your home for the rest of your life.

When I got back on the prison side of the bridge, the sign to turn was more clearly marked (or I knew to where to look this time).

I drove slowly through this residential area for a couple of blocks. I knew the property around there had to be super expensive. Waterfront views in the San Francisco area to not go cheap. A small three-bedroom house can easily fetch over a million dollars according to local real estate websites.

I finally got to the very end of the cul-de-sac, and there was the prison, The largest piece of real estate in the neighborhood. In 2009, there was even a proposal that the state should sell San Quentin and re-build the prison on property that didn’t have an ocean view. That didn’t happen.

This wasn’t an official visiting day, but there were still a number of cars in the visitor parking lot. It was the first of three large lots, but the only one you could enter without going through a guarded and gated checkpoint first. The white wooden guard shack was weathered, but no less intimidating. I carefully drove down the steep narrow road entering the lot and parked my car.

Self-Guided Tour

I walked halfway back up the road and looked at the wooden building that had a small “visitor entrance” sign over the door, that was probably hung up in 1972, and not touched since. The place was grungy and deserted.  A puddle of water on the cement floor told me the roof probably leaked during the most recent storms. I didn’t want to imagine an alternative scenario that would cause a floor puddle.

On the right side of the narrow interior was a wall of beat up blue metal lockers.  Who knew the visiting area at the Orange County Jail could look so clean and modern by comparison? County had plenty of plastic molded chairs for the waiting visitors. San Quentin had a couple of old benches.

I spent some time looking around and snapping pictures of the numerous informational bulletins hung all over the wall. Many of the signs re-iterated the clothing and other visitor rules I’d seen online. If the guards deem your clothing to be unacceptable, you can borrow some used clothing they have available for such a circumstance. It reminded me of how my son’s middle school has a similar policy when kids forget their PE clothes. The loaner PE clothes are pink.

There was a locked door heading into an office check point and metal detector. I figured I had the gist of the place, and I was glad I’d made this practice excursion. It made me feel less stressed about coming back the next morning.

Ye Olde Prison Gift Shoppe

On my way out of the parking lot, I saw a small wooden sign shaped like a pointing hand hanging outside a building just in front of the main prison gates. It said “Hobby Gift Store.”

I parked my car alongside the road next to a one-hour parking sign. I had to check it out. A San Quentin gift store was the kind of thing that would have grabbed my attention long before meeting Daniel.

Unfortunately, the store was closed, but I could see inside the front window. The store was a place to sell crafts and art work made by the inmates in classes. (Daniel later told me there is a long waiting list to get into those classes. They are very popular).

I took a couple more pictures before a guard came around from the gate and suspiciously asked me if I needed help. Once again, I explained that I was taking a test run for my visit the next day. I guess I could have said I’m a writer working on a book. That’s true, too.

I decided it was time to get out of there for now.  I was going to be spending enough time around the place that weekend. I took a deep breath of fresh air and headed back to the hotel to get some writing done. Along the way, I stopped at the Redwood Café and got a grilled cheese sandwich and a café latte to go.

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.