Rachel Buffett’s accessory (after the fact) to murder trial began on Friday, September 5, 2018, and is well underway.
The jury was chosen. District Attorney Matt Murphy made an opening statement. Rachel’s defense attorney, David Medina, also made an opening statement.
The trial is scheduled to last until next Friday, September 14, 2018.
I have taken copious notes, but Judge Hanson made a statement about the media coverage of this trial on day one, and I took that to mean, “Wait until the trial is over before you tell the world every little detail.” I will honor that request.
I will say this:
Matt Murphy likes David Medina a LOT more than he did Scott Sanders. He makes little comments about how “professional” Mr. Medina is in the courtroom, and it’s so obvious that he’s sending out little digs to an absent Scott Sanders that I have to stifle a laugh when it happens. I miss the Scott and Matt courtroom quarrels, but Medina seems like he definitely has his sh*t together.
Before the trial started, I couldn’t imagine Rachel Buffett being found not guilty, but now I can. It’s not a pleasant thought.
We are not in Mike the Bailiff’s courtroom anymore! I don’t know the name of Judge Hanson’s main bailiff, but in my head I’ve nicknamed him Major Bailiff. If that man hasn’t been in the military I will eat my hat. (What a strange expression, right?) Remember how I told you there was none of that “all rise” formality during Daniel’s trial? Well Major Bailiff makes sure we rise, and turn off our phones, and have drinks with lids, and sit up straight and pay attention, and not wear sunglasses even if they are just sitting on the top of someone’s head. I don’t dislike Major Bailiff. He’s just a guy who takes his job very seriously. You have to respect that. And Mike the Bailiff, if you’re reading this, please don’t be offended — I enjoy the ritual of standing up before the judge enters. I’m used to seeing that on TV. But Mike was a lot a friendlier.
We’ve seen some familiar witnesses. We’ve heard some familiar questioning and some unfamiliar questioning.
We’ve watched interrogation footage of Rachel being interviewed by the Costa Mesa Police. I’ve seen some short clips of her interview, but this was a lot more footage and it was eye opening. (Truth be told, my eyes were already opened, but Rachel made quite a few statements giving me confirmation of stories Daniel Wozniak has often shared with me.)
We are in a smaller courtroom and it’s a lot easier to hear Matt Murphy in this space. But some of the video footage is virtually impossible to make out. The jury gets a written transcript, so it doesn’t matter if Rachel and Daniel are mumbling like crazy, but I’d really appreciate some subtitles for those of us in the cheaper seats. (For a couple of actors, they certainly didn’t know how to enunciate or project.)
One constant from both Daniel’s and Rachel’s trials has been Sam Herr’s and Julie Kibuishi’s loved ones, ever-present. Their heartbreak is palpable.
That’s about all I’ll go into right now. I promise to give you the complete story when the trial finishes, and until then, I’ll get updates out as much as possible.
First, I’m going to admit I was wrong when I suggested in my last post that Rachel Buffett might be choosing to have a bench trial instead of a jury trial. I only wondered about this when I noticed there had been no mention of a jury in Rachel’s previous two hearings. Maybe I watch too much TV, but it would be an interesting defense strategy to leave Rachel Buffett’s fate entirely in the hands of Judge Sheila Hanson.
That is not the case. The jury selection process for Rachel’s trial will begin on Tuesday, September fourth, at nine am.
I know I’ve said this before, and I’ve probably gotten your hopes up in the past, but folks, I really think this time it’s going to happen. After eight years, Rachel Buffett will finally have her day in court. This will be her chance to clear her name and prove she was not an accessory (after the fact) to the murders of Sam Herr or Julie Kibuishi.
It’s important to point out that Rachel is not being charged for the actual murders of Sam or Julie. A thorough and arduous investigation by the Costa Mesa Police hasn’t turned up enough evidence to prove Rachel’s involvement was equal to Daniel Wozniak’s.
However, even during Wozniak’s trial, lead investigator Lt. Ed Everett admitted on the stand that he believed Rachel Buffett should be facing the same capital murder charges as her ex-fiancée.
Admittedly, I’m more curious to hear about the investigation into Rachel’s case than I was about Daniel’s.
I had a lot more information about Daniel and his murder investigation. I also knew Daniel Wozniak was not going to take the stand, and that meant his own confession was going to weigh heavily on the jury’s decision. I was sure Daniel would be found guilty and that he’d likely get the death penalty. Daniel Wozniak’s trial held very few surprises for me.
Rachel’s Buffett’s trial is a complete unknown.
During the August 29th hearing, it was established that her trial is expected to take ten days. The amount of time surprised me, considering her charges aren’t that complicated.
The police say she lied to them during their investigation into Sam’s and Julie’s murders. Rachel has claimed this was all a misunderstanding. She had no knowledge and gave no intentional assistance to Daniel Wozniak regarding either of the murders. Rachel Buffett didn’t confess to anything. Daniel Wozniak confessed to everything.
I have no doubt that Rachel and her defense team will strongly fight any charges against her.
If Rachel or any of her supporters (whom I’ve nicknamed “The Blonde Coalition”) are worried about Rachel’s fate, they certainly aren’t showing any signs of concern while in the courtroom. I believe both her parents and all three of her siblings were in court on Wednesday showing united support from behind Rachel, who was now officially sitting at the defendants’ table (I believe she stood at a podium previously, but I haven’t been to every one of Rachel’s court appearances).
Despite of my friendship with the man who murdered their only son, they’ve shown me nothing but politeness and consideration. Sitting outside of Courtroom 41 last Wednesday morning, I wished Raquel Herr “good luck,” regarding the upcoming hearing. It was the best I could think of at the time.
She smiled at me and thanked me. She also said something I couldn’t quite make out because of her Spanish accent… but I understood the gist of it.
She appreciated my sentiment, but luck wouldn’t be necessary. Jesus has got this.
On Thursday, August 23, 2018, there was yet another court appearance for Rachel Buffett.
There was another trial taking place in courtroom C41 when I arrived. This was a pretty good sign that Rachel’s trial would not begin that morning.
Steve and Raquel Herr sat on a bench across from the courtroom door. I’d be concerned if I didn’t see them there. They’re always there. Seeking justice. It can’t be how they imagined spending their retirement years.
I said “good morning,” and sat on a different bench around a hallway corner. I never want to encroach upon their personal space.
The courtroom door opened and those involved in the other trial filed out into the hallway for a morning break. Steve, Raquel, and a few others made there way into the courtroom. I followed a moment later and sat in the back corner of the spectator seats. Pretty much all the same people were in attendance. Masa Kibuishi arrived a few minutes later.
Always there. Seeking justice.
The “blond coalition” (Rachel Buffett and her family and friends) always enter as a group just before the proceedings are set to begin.
District Attorney Matt Murphy was the only expected face missing, but he was able to make a dramatic last minute entrance, explaining he’d been delayed by a freeway closure on the I-5.
When court was called to order, Judge Hanson said her current trial would be finished that afternoon and the Buffett trial would commence on Wednesday, August 29th at 9 am, and she would be ready to “hear arguments” from the attorneys at that time.
There was no mention at all about a jury.
All you True Crime fans know that a defendant has the right to choose a bench trial instead of a jury trial. This means the decision of guilt or innocence is entirely left up to the judge.
It would be an interesting strategy on the part of Rachel’s defense attorney. A bench trial is a way to make sure emotions don’t influence the results. I had to wonder if that’s why there was no talk of seating a jury on Wednesday morning.
I’ll keep you all updated as soon as I know something.
A hearing for Daniel Wozniak’s ex-fiancée, Rachel Buffett, took place this morning on August 20th, 2018 at 9:00 AM.
Rachel and her coalition of blonde supporters filled up about three rows of seats on the left side of the spectator seating.
Across the aisle, Sam’s parents, Steve and Raquel Herr, were in attendance as per usual. I don’t think they have ever missed a hearing for Rachel Buffett or Daniel Wozniak. They were soon joined by Julie Kibuishi’s father, Masa. These grieving parents greet each other warmly, and I can’t help thinking how sad it is that this friendship formed from mutual pain and heartbreak.
Honorable Judge Sheila Hanson made quick work of the hearing, where the main goal was merely to clarify that everyone involved is ready to finally go to trial later this week.
Trial Date Set
Thursday, August 24th, 2018 is the scheduled date for the for Rachel’s trial to begin, and it sure appears to be the real deal this time around.
Rachel Buffett has been charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact. She could face up to three years behind bars if found guilty.
Will she testify in her own defense?
I have my fingers crossed so tight; my hands are turning color of my hair.
I’ve been writing about Daniel Wozniak and the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi for about three years now (wow). During this time, I’ve come to realize just how many people are fascinated by the True Crime genre.
I used to think it was just me who would ask Santa to put a deck of serial killer trading cards under my Christmas tree. But True Crime is everywhere these days. Even people who don’t think of themselves as True Crime fans give me their undivided attention when I attempt to deliver a condensed version of what I’m working on.
The True Crime bug has even made its way into high school matriculation.
Behind Behind the Curtain
This past April, I received a message from an Irvine, California high school student named Tess Ortego. She was the team leader of a trio of teens, including Collin Press and Sydney Guanga*, who were working on the final project for their Forensics Core classes. As part of the curriculum, they took an Honors Forensic Science class, an Honors Forensic Psychology class, and an Honors Critical Theory and Literature class.
Impressive, right? I thought my honors Algebra class was challenging.
According to Tess, the assignment was pretty open ended. It was to use a medium (suggested mediums included podcast, documentary, or website) to answer the essential question, “How do we determine a reliable understanding of truth within the criminal justice system?”
I believe the children are the future – for reals.
The students were supposed to focus on a cold case and act as their own investigative team. Interestingly, Tess, Collin and Sydney were given permission to work on a case that wasn’t so cold. Considering all the publicity surrounding Daniel Wozniak’s trial and the Orange County snitch scandal, the students couldn’t have found a better case to study truth within the criminal justice system.
They decided to do a podcast, which they cleverly titled Behind the Curtain, and their research let them to my blog. They figured I’d be a good source of information on the topic.
I’m a busy person. Active life. I have a book to finish. But I enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed and recorded for their podcast. These kids are barely older than my own son, and since I’d hope someone would help him out on an important school project, I could do no less.
An Opportunity To Share
Also, I’m not ashamed to admit I was glad for the opportunity to actually talk about some of what I’ve been writing. In the theatre world, it’s common for a director to ask a trusted and perceptive peer to attend an early rehearsal and provide audience feedback. These kids are smart (the two seniors, Tess and Collin, are starting at prestigious colleges this fall) and they’d done quite a bit of research on Daniel’s case. They really wanted to know the story Daniel has only shared with me, and Tess agreed to not use anything I told them in confidence.
Tess and I emailed back and forth for a bit in order to plan an interview time. The team sent me a list of well-crafted interview questions, such as:
How did you know Daniel Wozniak prior to his conviction?
What about Daniel Wozniak interests you the most?
Do you know anything about Wozniak’s family/parents?
Have you ever been criticized for writing your blog?
We decided to meet at a local Starbucks, because all my important meetings take place at a local Starbucks.
The three students were seated outside when I arrived. It was a hot day, and our four o’clock meeting time landed us with the bright sun beating down between the gaps where two patio umbrellas attempted to protect my pasty white skin. Sydney ended up trading seats with me when I still couldn’t stop making a squinty-eyed pirate face in spite of wearing sunglasses.
Honestly, I would have preferred sitting indoors, but I didn’t want to sound “complainy” asking about it. Maybe they looked indoors before I arrived; and they weren’t any tables available that were large enough to seat four.
Being outdoors did mean I had to be more aware of acoustics and background noise for the podcast recording. I was wearing Invisalign braces at the time, so I felt the need to make an extra effort to speak clearly and loudly enough for their microphone. I have a good strong voice. It’s not super loud and intrusive (I hope), but if other patrons at nearby tables happened to want to focus in on the conversation at our table, it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge to catch the majority of what was being said. (Foreshadowing!)
We spent the next two hours discussing the horrible murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. We went over the details of the story known to the public; which can be complicated to follow even for those who have studied the case extensively. We discussed aspects of Daniel Wozniak’s confession that are illogical and weren’t actually proven in court with any corroborating evidence. I shared some of Daniel’s claims of what actually took place when Sam and Julie were murdered.
I wanted to make sure the students understood that Daniel in no way exonerates himself with this other story. He is a murderer. There is no version of the story where Julie Kibuishi and Sam Herr don’t lose their lives.
However, what Daniel has told me sure does add quite a few new layers to the cake. There are a lot of extra ingredients, and Daniel claims he wasn’t the only chef in the kitchen.
Listen to a special composite version of Behind the Curtain (edited to maintain my privacy) by clicking on the player:
(Audio is used by permission. Behind the Curtain is copyright 2018 Tess Ortego, Collin Press, Sydney Guanga. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication in any media is a violation of international copyright laws.)
An Unintended Guest
I used to feel uncomfortable discussing my writing project. Even in a crowded restaurant, my voice would instinctively drop to a whisper when saying words like “murder” and “mutilation.”
The popularity of True Crime had made me let down my guard. That’s why I was so surprised about what happened just when we were wrapping up the interview.
Unseen by me, a man had sat down at the table behind ours. The seating order at our table allowed all the kids to see the man while my back was turned away from him.
“That isn’t a very nice conversation you’re having,” he loudly called over to us. “It isn’t appropriate for such a beautiful day.”
He wouldn’t have been bothered if it were raining?
I turned around in my seat and faced the man. He was small and pale with thinning dark hair. I detected an Eastern European accent. I kindly explained to him that our conversation was all for the purpose of education. Unfortunately, he wasn’t appeased.
“Oh” he said. “It’s so lovely out, I thought you should talk about something more appropriate.”
“We are almost finished, and we want them to get a good grade.” I answered, turning back to the kids.
I wasn’t exactly sure what he was attempting to accomplish. It’s a free Starbucks. We can discuss whatever we want. Our language was clean. Nobody was smoking or doing anything offensive. This man had no right or reason to try and shame us for our conversation topic.
That being said, if we hadn’t been leaving, I would have tried to keep my voice lower, or move us to another table, for the sake of peace and harmony.
“There are so many nicer things to teach children.” He spoke louder to the back of my head. He had that passive aggressive nature that some men reveal when they decide, “you should smile more because you are such a pretty girl.”
The teenagers looked amused. Eye rolling ensued.
It wasn’t just me; the kids rolled their eyes, too.
I looked at him over my shoulder. “I’m not their teacher. I’m not their parent. I just know a lot about their topic.”
“And we all come from loving homes, by the way,” Tess added. Well played, I thought!
People are drawn to True Crime for a wide variety of reasons. Is it a fascination with the darker side of humanity? Is it the excitement of a good scare? Or does having an in-depth knowledge of murderers and their victims makes us feel a little more prepared to fight off anything bad that comes our way?
It’s possible these kids only wanted a good grade on their final. But Tess has aspirations to join the FBI, and both she and Sydney say they can’t wait to read my book.
So I better get back to work.
Update on Rachel Buffett’s Trial
Once again, Rachel has a scheduled trial date. She is supposed to be in court Monday August 20th, 2018. I’ll keep you updated if anything happens.
*Permission was granted to use the names of the students.
On July 17, 2018, Rachel Buffett is once again going to court. It’s a Tuesday. I think this one might be for real. It looks like Rachel’s trial is actually going to happen.
More than a year after Daniel Wozniak was sentenced to death for the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi, Rachel will finally face charges for being an accessory after the fact. That’s the good news. At least for Sam’s and Julie’s loved ones, I assume. Steve Herr has often voiced frustration and anger about trial delays.
Rightfully so. His son was murdered over eight years ago.
Unfortunately, I personally wish this trial were pushed back just a couple more weeks. It turns out, my daughter needs to have all four wisdom teeth removed ASAP, and the surgery is the same day that Rachel’s trial is set to begin. That’s the bad news.
I’m aware that my schedule is of no significance to anyone actually involved in this trial, but I’m still really annoyed by the timing. I have been promising you all that I’d keep you updated on Rachel’s case, and now I can’t go to the trial. Unless it happens to carry over to Monday, I probably won’t get to see any of it. I’m genuinely sorry, folks, but the care and maintenance of my kid will always take precedence.
If you’re thinking “Why can’t her husband take care of their daughter, so MM can go to the trial?” I can answer that question with one word – Comicon
There is always the possibility of another delay, but I feel rueful in wishing for that outcome because Sam’s and Julie’s loved ones deserve to have this over and done with.
I am hopeful though, that one or two of you might end up going to Rachel’s trial yourselves, and then comment about it. I’m sure all of us would appreciate any updates we can get. You should take notes.
I also hope the media will give Rachel’s trial a fair amount of attention, but it probably won’t be the same frenzy that surrounded Daniel’s trial.
By the way, I will buy the trial transcript. Transcripts are pretty pricey, but I shelled out for Daniel’s court transcript and it has been invaluable while working on the book.
And speaking of the book: I’m hard at work. Sometimes I don’t always have as much dedicated and undisturbed writing time as I’d like, but the book is getting written.
Most of the time I love writing. I feel energized when I am telling a compelling story.
Thank you so much STK for acting as my thesaurus via text.
I’ll admit that once in a while I have an aversion to the activity because the words aren’t flowing smoothly from my pen (cliché!) or I’m spending too much time worrying about being judged harshly by the readers for at least a dozen reasons…
I’ll get back to that discussion another time. The topic right now is Rachel and her trial. I really wish I could go to it, but maybe there is some fated reason that I shouldn’t be there. I’ll tell myself that.
Will Rachel Buffett testify? I’m not sure how her lawyer is going to defend her from these charges if Rachel doesn’t take the stand and explain why she was dishonest during police interviews. We shall see.
Final note – San Quentin is on lockdownagain. They have been on this “modified program” for a couple of weeks now. No visits, no phone, etc. I don’t think I’ve spoken to Daniel since the end of June. Luckily snail mail is still available.
UPDATE: July 17, 2018
I know this will be a shock for you, but it turns out Rachel Buffett’s trial has been postponed again. I have to say I really thought it was going to happen this time. It was in a courtroom on the eleventh floor and was starting on a Tuesday. My Magic 8 ball said “All signs point to yes.” Her new trial date is August 20, 2018.
I wasn’t in the courtroom, so I don’t know which side asked for the continuance or why, but I can’t deny I am pleased I don’t have to miss her trial.
“When I’m with the guys there I don’t think about their crime, because they’re not their crime. It’s the man in front of me and whatever he did, that’s something that he did in the past…he’s already been judged so I don’t need to be doing that.” — Father George Williams, San Quentin’s Catholic chaplin
Daniel is comparatively new to death row. He has less than two years under his belt, whereas many of the inmates on the row have been incarcerated at San Quenin for decades. As Daniel has become accustomed to his new surroundings, he has shared his experience with me along the way.
I talk to Daniel Wozniak on the telephone regularly. We write each other often. I’ve even visited him at San Quentin a couple of times. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how death row functions in the state of California.
As you all know, I’m fascinated by this world behind bars, so when I came across a podcast produced entirely within the walls of the San Quentin State Prison, I was hooked right away.
How Ear Hustle Interviewed Daniel Wozniak
Ear Hustle is the project of Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor, co-founded with Antwan Williams. Antwan and Earlonne are inmates, and Nigel is a visual artist who volunteers at the prison.
Although Daniel Wozniak and Earlonne Woods are incarcerated in the same California state prison, their experiences in San Quentin are not that similar. Ear Hustle focuses the world of the “mainline,” where Earlonne Woods is housed, and life there looks quite different from Daniel’s on the “the row.”
That’s because death row is considered a completely separate prison within the prison. Daniel lives by much stricter rules and has a lot less freedom than the mainline prisoners.
Ear Hustle recently released an episode called “The Row” focused entirely on San Quentin’s condemned unit and how it differs greatly from being incarcerated on the mainline. Earlonne and Nigel wrote a letter inviting death row inmates to contact Ear Hustle if any of them were willing to share their experiences. I’m not sure how many responses they received, but one of them was from my friend Daniel Wozniak.
Daniel agreed to the podcast interview, but there was a major logistical issue.
As death row is a separate prison, the inmates housed there are not permitted inside the media lab where Ear Hustle is recorded. Without ever leaving the grounds of San Quentin, Daniel could walk into another room and suddenly be outside the confines of his prison. Big no-no.
As they said on the podcast, and I’ve heard Daniel say this regularly, a “workaround” needed to happen. The interviews would take place over the telephone. In Daniel’s case, he was brought into the East Block Custody Sergeant’s office for his interview, which took about ninety minutes.
Daniel was asked about his life behind bars, his methods for coping with incarceration, and how he feels about his future. He did a good job. He’s grown up a lot since the Lock Up debacle of 2011.
One of his statements did cause him a little bit of grief with some inmates. In his interview, Daniel spoke about not wanting to waste his life in spite of being behind bars. He mentioned how some inmates spend all day watching TV, and he personally didn’t want to live like that.
Daniel didn’t mean for this to come off as judgmental of anyone, but a few guys took it that way. Some people were insulted. Apologies were made and all is well.
And you don’t need to be an inmate to spend all day watching TV. Am I right?
There were two other death row inmates interviewed for the episode. They had both been in San Quentin for decades. Unlike Daniel, these men had been around long enough to remember the last time an execution actually took place. They have experienced death on death row.
How Other Prisoners View Life on Death Row
Ear Hustle interviewed some mainline inmates who were also around during the last execution in 2006. For me, the most enlightening part of the podcast was learning how some mainline inmates feel about the condemned men on the other side of the prison.
Some felt sorry for them and took a “there for the grace of God…” attitude when asked about death row. Some were indifferent. Others envied the solitude given to the death row inmates: “If you have to live the rest of your life in prison, that would be the spot,” explained one inmate who pointed out that the guys on death row don’t have “cellies.”
But Earlonne Woods countered that line of reasoning by pointing out the many freedoms given to the mainline population as compared to the row. On the mainline, inmates can be out of their cells for most of the day. They can go to yard, they can spend time with their fellow inmates, and they have numerous classes and programs offered to them.
Daniel told me that sometimes bands come and play outdoor concerts for the mainline population. Occasionally inmates will even get up onstage for a jam session. Daniel said there’s also an annual visit from the NBA Golden State Warriors basketball team, and they play a game against the San Quentin inmate team. Sometimes the inmates win. It appears there is some sadly wasted talent behind those walls.
On the podcast, Nigel pointed out the “incredible disconnect,” between the death row and mainline populations. I knew about the separation, but I hadn’t realized that mainline inmates aren’t even allowed to speak to the death row inmates.
Separation and Isolation
When a death row inmate is being walked past in the yard, mainline inmates are expected to stop what they are doing, turn, and look away. The guard accompanying the condemned man walks with his baton out and at the ready. This is a security measure to protect the DR inmate, whose hands are cuffed behind his back. (On Ear Hustle there was a question about if death row inmates are shackled at the waist as well, but in Daniel’s experience, they are only handcuffed behind their backs)
Daniel insists he told me about this practice when he first got to San Quentin, but I don’t remember it at all. Maybe my dogs were loudly flipping out about a UPS delivery, and I couldn’t hear Daniel on the telephone. This happens a lot.
Daniel says he told me all about the first time he was escorted across a yard. A mainline prisoner, who was likely new to the San Quentin population, approached Daniel and enthusiastically pointed out how he recognized him from the TV show Crime Watch Daily. Luckily for that guy, the baton-holding guard responded to the “threat” verbally, and not physically.
I think I would have remembered that story.
Listening to Ear Hustle really brought home how death row can seem like such a hopeless place. On the mainline, redemption is a possibility. Even men with life sentences are encouraged to change, improve, and reform. However, the inmates on death row “are not allowed to change,” says Father George Williams. “They are stuck in being the worse thing they ever did.”
Earlonne Woods reminded the listeners that not everyone on death row is a serial killer, and there are plenty of convicted murderers on the mainline. A lot depends on the prosecutor, the jury and the police reports. “Some of the guys are here on the mainline for committing the same types of crimes that put other guys on death row,” Nigel pointed out.
In his interview, Daniel talked about how he’s had people support him along the way, and how he’s been able to change from the man he was before his incarceration. Daniel feels as though that person is dead. The man responsible for the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi is the one who was given the death penalty. Daniel is now becoming a new and better person.
I like to think I’m one of the supportive people helping Daniel become a better person. Also, I’m torn by the idea of Daniel completely detaching himself from the murderer who lived inside him.
I agree he isn’t that man anymore. But the heartbreak and destruction from Daniel’s past deeds are still very real to Sam and Julie’s loved ones. Daniel Wozniak’s redemption is likely of no concern to the Herr and Kibuishi families.
I’m guessing there are very few people who care about the redemption of any of the men on San Quentin’s death row. Which is why Steve, one of the other death row inmates interviewed, believes “any acts of redemption or self transformation that anybody makes on death row, it has to come from themselves.”
Hi Everyone! Yes. It has been a while since you’ve heard from me.
I am going to be honest with you, folks. I had NO idea how much time and work it takes to write a book. My hat is off to anyone who has ever completed the task. That being said, I’m chipping away at my book, and I’m pleased with my progress so far.
An Update on Rachel Buffett’s Court Case
Many of you want to know what’s up with Rachel Buffett’s case. It appears to be on hold. As of this writing, there is nothing on the court schedule for Rachel’s trial through the end of May, which is the farthest date available on the Orange County Courts search.
I guess they are feeling pretty confident about proving Rachel’s innocence in court. She has not been charged with murder. She’s currently only facing around three years behind bars for lying to the police after the murders of Sam and Julie. This doesn’t mean the authorities don’t want to charge her with murder; they just don’t have a way to prove it.
For now, Rachel remains out on bail.
And hopefully doesn’t know where I live.
Meanwhile, At San Quentin…
Daniel Wozniak, though, is tucked away on death row in San Quentin State Prison for the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.
His only change of locale comes from moving to a different cell. And that’s what happened last week.
Prisoners have no say in where they’ll be housed. They can make requests, but if an inmate isn’t “content with his neighborhood,” he can’t asked to be moved without a good reason.
In the past couple of months, a number of prisoners were released from the AC (the Adjustment Center), and back into main death row housing. Daniel got a bunch of new neighbors. Soon after, the noise level, and the number of “shenanigans,” increased a great deal.
Nevertheless, to ask the guards to move to a more peaceful area in San Quentin State Prison is akin to asking an usher at the Super Bowl if you can be seated in a quiet spot in the arena.
What’s an inmate to do?
Well, Daniel had a lucky break – literally – when both the sink and the toilet in his cell became inoperable. For some reason, there was no water coming into Daniel’s cell at all. The California Department of Corrections has a policy that an inmate cannot be confined to a cell without access to water for an extended period of time, and the issue in Daniel’s cell wasn’t going to be a quick fix.
The guards didn’t want to be running to get him bottles of water all the time, so the simplest solution (suggested by Daniel) was to move Daniel to another cell that had recently become vacant on the same tier.
You wouldn’t think it would make much of a difference, but Daniel claims it’s actually a lot quieter and calmer on that end. It’s easier to study and read.
Yes. It certainly was timely and beneficial for Daniel that his cell had plumbing issues just when he was contemplating a move to a new area.
Not So Much a Change of Scenery as a Change of Cells
The details that go into changing prison cells are interesting. Things I’d never even consider worrying about could lead to an inmate being sent to “the hole.” This would mean a loss of many privileges such as telephone time and having visitors. It’s really important to obsessively clean your new “home” before you move in.
And I will get to that in a minute. First, I feel the need to mention something many of you might have been thinking as you read the intro to this post:
“Who the hell cares if Dan Wozniak is living in a peaceful environment when two innocent people are dead because of him?”
Like many of you, I’m fascinated by this prison world. So when Daniel tells me what it’s like to move from cell to cell, I think it will make an interesting blog story.
I’m still acutely aware of why Daniel is living in a cell in the first place. It could be said that he deserves much worse than where he is now.
Sam Herr is dead. Julie Kibuishi is dead. Daniel Wozniak is alive. It is not fair. If Daniel had to share a cell with six other people, subsiding on only bread and water, he’d still be lucky he gets to wake up every morning.
That being said, let’s return to prison life.
New Digs, No Trust
We have all watched movies and TV shows where a prisoner has his cell searched by the guards. Uniformed men completely trash the inmate’s living space. They are looking for hidden contraband and they know inmates can be ingenious when it comes to stashing their stash.
Weapons are the most dangerous finds. A piece of metal can be easily be sharpened into a knife. Illegal drugs and other contraband “somehow” manage to make their way behind bars as well.
When inmates are aware that a search is about to take place, smuggled cell phones are slid far away from the cells and out onto the tier walkway. Toilets are repeatedly flushed. An institution-wide cell search can take days because of the thoroughness of the officers.
Knowing this, Daniel has learned never to trust that a new cell is safe to move into. During his seven years of incarceration at the Orange County Jail, Daniel was obligated to change cells twenty times. He got very good at moving and cleaning.
Daniel is clearly proud of his knowledge and experience of prison living.
He laughs as his early days as a “new fish” at the OC Jail when he barely swept inside a new cell. That changed when he met a fellow inmate with a strange infected wound covering the better part of his arm (which required daily bandage changing by the jail nurse), and Daniel’s eyes were opened to what kind of germs could have been left over from past tenants.
He jokes about “swabbing the deck” like a pirate because he doesn’t want to end up with a hook arm or a peg leg.
Getting ill is actually the lesser of two possible concerns that can arise from an inadequate “treasure hunt.” If you don’t look for all the “booty,” it could be “your booty on the line.”
Are we seeing a bit of a theme in this recent letter?
Daniel treats every new cell as if the previous occupant was “his mortal enemy who was hell-bent on framing (him) for a crime, but the guy died of Ebola while in the process.”
Once arrangements had been made for Daniel to change cells, one of the guards gave him some boxes so he could pack up his belongings. The guard then walked a handcuffed Daniel over to his new digs and locked him inside. The guard got a rolling cart and brought Daniel’s boxes over to him. The boxes were put inside the cell. The door was locked. The handcuffs removed.
The whole move took about thirty minutes and Daniel didn’t even need to find a friend with a pickup truck.
The first order of business, before unpacking anything, is to make sure every square inch of the space gets washed, soaped, scrubbed and disinfected. This is a three-part process for Daniel.
He uses the state-issued powder soap and water to get rid of the surface grime.
He uses an anti-bacterial bar soap to deep clean the entire cell. He buys the soap himself. It’s usually Dial.
He makes a concentrate with powdered laundry soap and water and goes over it all for a third time. Daniel buys the laundry soap as well. It’s usually Gain. He likes the smell.
All the cleaning and scrubbing is done with a dedicated washcloth and steel wool. While cleaning, Daniel looks for any hidden surprises that may have been left by other tenants.
This time around, he found an old sewing needle. He flushed it down the toilet. He did not touch the needle with his fingers.
Ummm yeah. We are all imagining the dozens of ways that needle could have been a petri dish of horror.
When the cell had been scrubbed cleaned and combed over, finally Daniel could move in and set up his new place.
When he moved into his previous cell, Daniel found that the inmate before him had hung laundry lines across the cell and attached “netting” from the lines. This created some extra storage and a place to dry clothes that had been washed in the sink (with the Gain).
Wanting to reenact what he’d become accustomed to in his last cell, Daniel took his own line and started to hang it from one of the holes in the metal bed frame…
Side note: The “lines” are usually made out of string from old boxers. Sometime knitting wool is used. Inmates who take arts and crafts often have different colored wool available, but that needs to be washed first, or you could end up with a colored stripe across all your clothes.
Daniel looped his line through the bed frame and tied it. Then he gave it a tug to test its stability. It easily came apart.
But it wasn’t the line that gave way – it was the bed. A loose piece of “cleverly camouflaged” metal had separated from the top of the bed frame, displaying its sharp and pointy edge.
Ta Da – Shank
This was not going to flush down the toilet.
Having such an item found in your cell is a very bad thing. But you also do not want to take it directly to a guard. Looking like a snitch is not the best way to make a good impression with the new neighbors.
What to do?
Well, an inmate could take that shank and place it in a “You Save ‘Em” interdepartmental mail envelope. He could address it to an officer, add an anonymous note of explanation and then casually drop it in with everything else during mail call, so the sender’s identity could remain unknown.
Yes, an inmate, who doesn’t want to be identified, could use that tactic to get rid of dangerous contraband found in his cell.
That was the end of Daniel’s new cell being the prison version of Mary Poppins’ bag, and no more surprises turned up. Daniel went to bed.
The next morning, he woke up to the announcement of “mandatory yard” call. All inmates know yard time is only mandatory on institution-wide search days.
Daniel, like all the other inmates on his tier, would be handcuffed with zip ties (for passing through a metal detector) and escorted to the yard until the search was finished.
He didn’t get back in his cell until 9 pm, but at least he knew he wasn’t about to end up in the AC because of the former tenant’s bed-knife.
It does give you pause to think about one of those fine death row fellows having a sharp weapon in his grasp. It’s no wonder the guards always cuff the prisoners before opening the door to their cells.
Daniel returned to his new home to find a receipt on his cot:
I thought you might be interested in a quick update on Rachel Buffett’s trial.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend Rachel’s most recent hearing on February 9th, 2018. I was at a funeral that morning. Priorities.
I had a strong feeling nothing extremely important would happen that day. It was a Friday, and there was no way her actual trial would begin on a Friday. Also, she was still assigned to the same courtroom as she’d been for her previous hearings.
Side note: How’s this for a coincidence? The last time I did go to one of Rachel’s hearings, I discovered that the judge was a friend of mine. Our kids went to school together. Small world.
Please note – I did NOT attempt to discuss the case with her, and she’s not going to be Rachel’s trial judge.
Currently, the Orange County Superior Court search site has Rachel scheduled to appear in court on March 13th. That, my friends, is a Tuesday. This “pre-trial” hearing has been assigned to a different courtroom from before. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but these signs do point to some forward movement.
I’m planning to be in court as much as possible. It’s amazing how long it’s taken to get Rachel’s case to trial. Think about this for second; Daniel is already on death row. He has been found guilty of the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. Yet, the woman who is only charged with lying about the murders after the fact still hasn’t faced justice. It would appear that the DA is the reason for the extension this time.
It won’t be a surprise to any of the blog readers when my book explores the allegation that Rachel Buffett was completely involved in Sam and Julie’s murders and their attempted cover-up. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m guessing none of the information I’ve been given could be used against Rachel in court anyway. Isn’t that hearsay?
I’m hoping that Rachel’s trial will contain some evidence to either prove or disprove Daniel’s version of events.
Writing a book takes a lot of work. It’s time consuming. And this story is often emotionally painful to convey. In a perfect world, I’d have finished my book and told Daniel’s story (then I could just sit around binging the podcast My Favorite Murder all day) long before Rachel Buffett’s actual trial. Oh well. It’s not a perfect world. Now back to work for me.
By the way, a recent commenter suggested that Rachel Buffett’s name is spelled with one “t” like Buffet. The OC courts spell her name with two “t”s, but if Rachel would prefer I spell her name differently, she is welcome to message me through the blog or the Facebook page with that request.
“She was my best friend. My only friend when you come to think of it; simply because I let no one in… Deep down I had a very low sense of self-esteem… God delivered me an angel… There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her (even to this day if you can believe it). She was still part of my life for my first 3 months of incarceration – then I must have done something idiotically stupid…” — from Daniel’s first letter to me, August 31, 2014
It was the summer of 2010, and Daniel Wozniak had a problem.
Well, in fact he had several problems, not the least being his recent incarceration. Dan was sitting in the Orange County Jail facing charges of double murder.
He’d admitted to shooting his upstairs neighbor, Sam Herr, a 26-year-old college student and Army combat veteran. Dan claimed his motive was money. He had plans to clean out Herr’s rather sizable bank account. Dan told the Costa Mesa police that he also cut off Sam’s head and arms in a pathetic attempt to hide Sam’s identity.
Daniel Wozniak also revealed that he’d murdered Sam Herr’s close friend and tutor, 23-year-old Julie Kibuishi, inside Sam’s apartment. The plan was to frame Sam and make it look like he was on the run instead of missing.
Daniel had confessed to all of that. He was locked up in jail, and he was facing the death penalty.
But in August of 2010, what kept Dan up at night were thoughts of his (former) fiancée, Rachel Buffett, and how she’d recently ceased all communication with him.
The couple was supposed to be married the previous May, but Dan’s confession and subsequent incarceration derailed all plans for a romantic beachside wedding. Still, Dan was genuinely surprised when Rachel stopped writing, visiting and accepting his collect phone calls from jail. In fact, he was downright worried about her, and determined to figure out why Rachel had cut off all contact.
A month before, in July, the TV show Lockup was trolling for willing interviewees among the prisoners at the Orange County Jail. Daniel’s attorneys had warned him that the show’s producer would be on his tier and he should turn down any request to do an interview. That is exactly what he did.
Soon after, Daniel was moved over to the Main Jail (aka “the dog kennels”). Quickly, he noticed that the dayroom for D-MOD, his current home, actually had two telephones accessible to the inmates during their out-of-cell time: the usual phone for collect calls, and another, non-collect, phone available to inmates who were acting as their own lawyers (Pro-Per), or had special request documents from their attorneys allowing them access to non-collect calls. Phone time was also given to inmates as a “reward” for helping the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in some fashion.
Since Rachel Buffett had stopped accepting his collect calls, Dan coveted an opportunity to use that non-collect phone. After all, maybe Rachel was just short on funds and couldn’t afford to pay for the calls… (Or a stamp? She’d stopped writing as well).
Lockup To The Rescue?
Daniel was returning to his cell after a visit with his parents one day, and lo and behold, the same Lockup film crew was looking around his new tier in D-Mod.
Daniel wrote to me, “The same producer lady, Suzanne Ali, made eye contact and said, ‘I know you!’ I smiled and kept on walking right past them back to my cell. A couple minutes later, my door opens and I’m asked to return back to the rotunda area (from where I had just come)…”
This time, Suzanne Ali seemed more determined to convince Daniel to speak with her on camera. It seemed to Dan that Ali was buttering him up. She talked about how his case was “high profile,” and this could be Dan’s chance to “get his story out.” (This was the first of many times Daniel would be offered that same opportunity by a TV producer.)
He wasn’t interested, but he “jokingly” asked Ali if he could “get paid for doing it.”
Suzanne Ali said Lockup couldn’t offer anything. And then the officer who was escorting the crew spoke up, and threw out a couple of options to convince Dan to agree to be on the TV program. (Daniel suspects this deputy was a member of the special handling unit involved in the Orange County Snitch Scandal, and was purposefully trying to get him to incriminate himself on camera).
So, readers… you can probably already see where this is going. Yup, Daniel agreed to be interviewed, but only if he could have access to the dayroom “free” phone.
First, he had to keep up his end of the bargain. Dan signed a waiver, was immediately put in restraints, and walked over to an open MOD in the main Women’s jail. The crew filmed him on the way (wearing his flood-length jail pants that looked like they came from the “Huck Finn” collection).
On the way over, Daniel couldn’t help wondering how angry this was going to make his attorney, Scott Sanders. (The answer to that: VERY).
The thing is, Dan had never heard of the show LockUp before they came into his MOD. He thought it was like a local cable access show with a very small viewing audience, and for whatever nutty reason, he thought it was a show to teach kids how to “follow the rules” or they could end up in jail like him.
He thought LockUp was like a combination “After School Special” and Scared Straight.
The group arrived at the filming area and the crew set up two chairs where Daniel and the Ali would sit during the interview. DDan was asked to do a sound check.
Way To Read The Room
Daniel Wozniak had been deeply involved in community theatre before his arrest. He’s done numerous sound checks in his life. Remember, Daniel and I met through theatre. As a director, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an actor say “testies…testicles…” into a microphone. It is commonplace to kid around during tech setup in the theatre world. So, Daniel Wozniak, a man who regularly turns to humor when he is in an uncomfortable situation, smiled and looked into the TV camera and quipped:
I want people to know that I’m a good guy. I’m easy going. I enjoy long walks on the beach. I’m an Aries.
And that sound check became the introduction to Daniel’s Lockup interview.
It was a completely inappropriate time for a lame joke. That bad is on him and he knows it.
Daniel Wozniak Describes His Lockup Interview
Here is how Daniel explains what happened next:
Ali goes over the format and what I should expect. She assures me that I’m going to be “running the show” and I won’t have to answer or talk about certain topics or specific details (if I don’t want to)… I reminded her that due to the fact that I hadn’t had a trial yet, I couldn’t go into details regarding the case itself – and to respectfully avoid those questions. I said I wanted to focus on the jail and the experience within… She agreed that would be a good “starting point.”
For the first 10 minutes or so, Ali asked me various questions about my life in jail and I gave my answers (At least 95% of which never made the final edit)… Then she starts broaching into my case (trying to get me to talk about it). I respectfully say that “I can’t comment on that at this time.” She returns to something more neutral but then jogs back to the case within the next couple of questions. For the first few times I’m calm, cool and collected when responding, “I can’t talk about that,” but the pattern continues and the two of us are becoming more and more frustrated. She keeps asking the same questions, and I won’t answer her.
Then Ali becomes like a detective – instead of asking me questions, she begins telling me some of the “facts” that are out there and wanting me to comment or explain. Since I say I can’t talk about the details, she asks me how I “feel” about some of the elements of the crime:
Are you happy that Sam and Julie are dead?
If this was the plan, are you pleased with how it turned out?
What are your feelings toward Sam and Julie – were they your friends?
She started flipping some of my own answers on me:
What would motivate you to kill two people when you say you have no reason and had nothing against them?
The questions kept coming and coming and I was approaching a breaking point… I told her “I don’t remember,” and “I’m not aware of what has been said.” So she asks me if I know what the newspapers are writing and people are saying about me. When I say “no” she gets one of her crew members to pull up a couple of articles for me to read… and he hands me his phone.
The articles that dude pulled up on his phone weren’t the basic informative New York Times style of articles. These were readers comments and what they had to say about the case and me. Reading one after the other, after the other, etc. – was not something I was ready for, especially when I was already at my “breaking point.” The emotion hit me like a tidal wave… water streamed out of my eyes and I couldn’t turn off the damn valve and make it stop! Complete and utter MELTDOWN. They had broken me and they knew it. At which point the interview was over.
Ultimately Ali didn’t get the story she wanted and I’ve always suspected she was pissed off about it and edited the episode to make me look as bad as humanly possible.
Not So Ready For His Close Up
If that was Suzanne Ali’s goal, she was damn successful. Let’s be honest here: The viewing audience didn’t feel sorry for Dan at all. This was a guy who had confessed to murdering two people.
When I watched the show the first time, I thought Dan was acting for the camera the entire time. and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t believe his tears at all. But really, after the confession, any words out of his mouth would make him look bad. The only way to avoid the problem would have been to not do the interview. That’s something Daniel Wozniak learned from his Lockup experience – don’t do interviews.
When Daniel and the crew got back to the “dog kennels,” the camera man asked about day to day life inside the OC Jail. That’s when they filmed Daniel shaving and creating culinary masterpieces. When the cell shots were finished, it was finally Daniel’s chance to reap the rewards of going though all that emotional turmoil. It was time to go into the dayroom and call Rachel Buffett on the non-collect phone!
Time To Call Rachel!
Just before leaving, someone from Lockup asked Daniel if they could return and film one of his visits as well. There was no way Daniel’s very private parents would agree to be on camera. And even though she hadn’t spoken to him in a couple of weeks, Dan Wozniak thought he might just as well ask Rachel Buffett if she would be willing to be on the show.
Dan dialed Rachel’s number and after a couple of rings she answered the phone. From Dan’s telling, the call went something like this:
Dan: Well hello to you too. Where the hell have you been?
Rachel: How are you calling me?
Dan: Just filmed an episode of Lockup and I got some free phone calls. Oh and by the way, the crew is still here and they were wondering if you want to be filmed visiting me.
Dan: Can you come visit and be filmed for Lockup?
Rachel: No! Are you an idiot?
Dan: So I’ve been told.
Rachel: Why did you agree to do that??
Dan: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because someone wasn’t answering her phone when I called.
Rachel: So you go on a TV show?
Dan: It was the only way I could talk to you.
Rachel: No. Dan. I’m sorry but this is not a good time. I really have to go. Can you call back later?
(Was she washing her hair??)
Dan: ummm I assume so.
Rachel: Ok, call me back later.
Dan: Just to be clear, that’s a “no” to visiting, right?
Rachel: Goodbye Dan.
Is anyone surprised that Rachel didn’t answer the phone when Dan called back?
Readers! I have a special surprise for you! One of you (thanks, Isadora!) discovered that the episode of Lockupis available for your viewing pleasure. It is now listed as “Facing the Death Penalty.” Here it is!