When I went to hearings for Daniel’s case in the past, I’d park in the same structure as when I visit the jail. It’s about a ten minute walk to the Santa Ana Superior Courthouse. On my route, I pass a little homeless camp; a very polite and unobtrusive group of people. I like going the “back way” because then my impatient self doesn’t have to maneuver around all the (rightfully unenthusiastic) jurors on the Civic Center Drive sidewalk.
(I’m probably going to walk with jurors from now on though, you know, since I just told you where I walk and I have some pretty extreme commentators on this blog.)
Everything was as per usual on Wednesday, December 9th… that is, until I walked past a row of news vans on the way. I was pretty sure they were there for the same reason I was.
That was the opening day of Daniel’s trial: the guilt phase.
The penalty phase comes after the guilt phase. The interesting thing I’ve noticed is, in court hearings, the penalty phase is discussed as though it’s inevitable. It is never called the possible penalty phase.
I wonder if that is the norm? Is is always assumed the defendant will be found guilty, and that a penalty phase will be necessary?
There was an unusually long line to get through the metal detectors at the front entrance of the courthouse. I hadn’t seen it snake out the door before. Inside, it took the elevators an inordinate amount of time to make their way to the first floor.
I made jokes with strangers about placing bets on which elevator would arrive first.
“Those two are neck and neck! Which one will win?”
“My money is on elevator 3!”
As soon as one arrived, I shoved myself in and let the claustrophobia attack begin.
Courtroom 30 is on the eighth floor. I’d been there before, and usually had my pick of where to sit. I wasn’t at all prepared for the crowd I found when I opened one of the double doors.
The place was packed. I chided myself for not realizing this would be the case. Duh! It is the biggest court case in Orange County this year. At least that’s what an OC Register reporter later told me.
Seats were saved with coats and purses. People milled around in the aisles. Discussions happened in little groups. Photographers and a TV camera were set up in the front by the jury box.
I was hoping to sit where Daniel might catch a glimpse of me. Maybe I could be a friendly face in the crowd. He’d told me I should sit “stage right / audience left,” so there was a possibility he could see me when he looked at his lawyer. I was lucky to even find a seat near the back.
I made a note to ask Daniel why the row directly behind the defense table was blocked off with two heavy black chairs. Later, he told me he wasn’t sure, but thought it might be to keep an empty pathway in case the crowd needed an emergency exit.
I’m not sure why, but I was surprised to see all the lawyers “on stage” already. Coming from the world of the theatre, I kind of expected a dramatic entrance. I wanted to see Matt Murphy and Scott Sanders coming in with a big musical number.
It would have been apropos, if you ask me. I wonder if either of them knows how to tap dance.
Nothing special happened when Judge Conely sat down at his bench, either. I wrote down another question for Daniel: “Where was the ‘all rise’ and the ‘you may be seated?'”
It wasn’t until the bailiffs brought Daniel into the courtroom that the mood shifted. This was probably the first time a lot of these people had ever seen him in person. Does he look dangerous to other people? He was wearing gray slacks and a blue pinstripe shirt. His hair and beard looked neatly combed and trimmed. I asked him about it later, and he agreed: it was nice to wear street clothes.
They sat Daniel in his usual spot at the defense table and took off his handcuffs. I got the feeling he was trying to look as blank-faced as possible. He’s a naturally “smiley” guy, so that’s probably a challenge for him.
I can’t imagine being under the scrutiny he’s experiencing. There is no facial expression he can make that will not be judged harshly. No nod or finger tap is safe. The bailiffs prefer he just sit still and face the front wall. This is limiting, but probably the best choice.
Directly across from the jury box was a large built-in projector screen that comes down from the ceiling. It felt ominous in spite of the “beach scene with surfer” screen saver. You know we were all wondering what they were going to show up there.
I was excited to get a look at the jury as they were brought in. Daniel had said they were a diverse mix of people when we talked on the telephone the night before. He was right. Males, females, different races and ages. It was an impressive variety, especially for Orange County.
Judge Conley started everything off by giving very thorough jury instructions. He had a slight sing-song quality to his voice, like when you’re explaining something complicated to a group of extremely intelligent children: You know they are smart enough to understand what you’re saying, but you still want to be as simple and clear as possible.
Then, we were off and running.
District Attorney Matt Murphy was up first with the prosecution’s opening remarks. This was the first time I’d had trouble hearing his voice in court. He seemed to be speaking only for the jury. Quiet and intimate. People around me complained that he needed to be mic’ed, but I think he was forcing us all to listen hard.
For the next two hours, he gave us an intimidating list of coming attractions as he laid out his case against Daniel Wozniak.
I already knew the main story of this crime. Daniel is accused of murdering his neighbor, Samuel Herr, on May 21, 2010, and then drain Sam’s bank account. He is also accused of killing Sam’s friend and tutor, Julie Kibuishi, in Sam’s apartment, on May 22, 2010. This was allegedly an attempt to frame Sam for Julie’s death. Daniel is also accused of dismembering Sam’s body and discarding the parts in a park.
During Murphy’s opening remarks, he talked about a number of aspects of the case that I hadn’t heard before.
- A backpack filled with Sam Herr’s belongings was found in the yard of Daniel’s parents’ next door neighbors.
- The police are in possession of the gun that was used to kill both Sam and Julie. It’s registered to Daniel’s father. It was turned in to the Long Beach Police by a friend of Daniel’s brother, Tim (who is also facing accessory charges).
- Daniel told the young man who actually withdrew money from Sam’s account to wear a hat and sunglasses.
- A mysterious drawing was found in Sam’s apartment. Murphy pointed out that it looked like an Asian woman on a bed with flames drawn around her head.
- A wedding invitation for Daniel and Rachel’s wedding was also found in Sam’s apartment.
- The police think that there are handwriting comparisons between the writing on the envelope for the invitation and the writing on Julie’s clothing when she was found dead in Sam’s apartment.
- Julie sometimes spent the night at Sam’s apartment, but Murphy adamantly claimed that the relationship was purely platonic.
- Some pretty incriminating Internet searches were found on a computer that had been in Daniel and Rachel’s possession.
- There is a recording of a phone call that Daniel made to Rachel from jail after his arrest. Murphy said that it implicates both of them in the crime.
So much of this was new to me. Some of it was new to Daniel, as well.
The defense chose to waive its right to an opening argument at this time. Daniel told me that Scott Sanders has never done this before.
It all looks pretty bad for Daniel if Matt Murphy can prove everything he says happened.
So, how do I feel about all this evidence against my friend?
Well, so far this is all the prosecution’s story, and I want to see it proven.
I’m going to attempt a sports metaphor here.
Let’s say you have a favorite football team. It’s your home team, but they have a terrible record. You’re watching a game between your team and the highest ranked team in the league. You really don’t expect your team to win. The odds are against them. The stats look terrible before they even got on the field. Still, you’d like to see a different ending.
But if your team doesn’t deserve to win… maybe they don’t practice, maybe they cheat, maybe they tried to give the other team’s star quarterback food poisoning….you will know in your heart they deserve to lose, but you will still support your team.
Next week – The witnesses for the prosecution.
Update: Both prosecution and defense rested on December 15. Prosecution finished with its witnesses. Defense didn’t call any. I have a lot to catch you up on readers!