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.

Court Considerations

Daniel’s murder trial is scheduled to begin in a couple of weeks. There has been so much hullabaloo about accused prosecutorial misconduct and the changing of judges, it seemed like this case would never go in front of a jury. But the court date is happening… and soon.

I wonder about the emotions being felt by the Herr and Kibuishi families. I’m guessing they are pleased that everything is finally getting underway, but are they are a bit nervous as well? I would be.

The trial is expected to go on for weeks, and scheduling around the holidays will likely make it last longer. I would be very surprised if it finishes before the end of the year.

I’m planning to go when I can because I prefer to hear information first hand, as opposed to getting a summary from the media or Daniel himself.

Listening to the podcast Undisclosed has been very helpful in understanding the terminology. Truth be told though, every time I hear about “Brady evidence,” I can’t stop thinking Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

Court Questions For Daniel

After I go to court, I often have odd questions for Daniel.

For example, how does he says his own last name? The judges and lawyers don’t seem to have made a unanimous decision about that one.  I wanted to know if it’s “woz as in oz” or “woz as in whoa?” He said it was the first one, but he isn’t bothered when someone says wOHzniak, especially Scott, because “he’s from Chicago.”

During the hearings, Daniel always wears the jail issued orange jumpsuit, or “oranges.” Also, he is in chains. I asked if it was awkward to be wearing the jumpsuit in a room filled with people in business attire. He said he’s used to it, and that when the actual trial starts, he will wear regular street clothes so the jury won’t get a preconceived idea about him. The jury also isn’t technically supposed to know he’s currently incarcerated, so his chains are removed before the jury is let in. We all see the irony here, right?

I found out he changes in the holding cell. The guards give him a bag with his clothes that were provided by his defense team. The orange jumpsuit is then put into the bag and returned to the guard. He told me he rolls up his clothes instead of folding so they won’t get wrinkled. I do the same thing when I pack my suitcase. I believe he has two “outfits” available.

Sometimes, if he’s lucky, he’ll be in the cell the prisoners call “the suite.” It is larger than a phone booth and has a stone bench to stretch out on during lunch. Occasionally he’ll have a towel he can roll up as a pillow. He also brings his own lunch from the the jail.

Will the jury really not be able to figure out he’s incarcerated when they never see Daniel outside of the courtroom? Will they wonder why he only has two changes of clothing, after weeks and weeks of trial?

Jury Selection

I am very curious to find out who will end up on this jury. It must be difficult to even find people who are available for such an extended amount of time. Are there employers who give jury duty pay for more than a week or two?

There were over 400 potential jurors questioned last week. I think it’s interesting that so many people were eliminated because they’d seen Daniel perform on stage. Hmmm? How many shows was he in? I’m not saying this was the case here, but that is a pretty clever way of getting out of jury duty.

Do the lawyers think if a person really enjoyed that night at the theatre, it would sway their opinions about Daniel? “The guy who starred in that popular commercial musical was so entertaining that I could never find him guilty of murder.”

Or if it was a bad production, “I couldn’t get my money back, but seeing him fry should make up for those two hours I lost sitting in the audience.” (Shakes fist angrily.)

Of course there were also plenty of jurors who were released because they had just seen too much information about the case in the media. How difficult will it be to find twelve people in Orange County who don’t know anything about the Daniel Wozniak case? It has been closely linked with the extremely high profile case of Scott Dekraii. I don’t know anyone in the OC who isn’t aware of the Seal Beach massacre.

I was on a jury once. It was a civil suit. The other jurors voted me in as their chairperson. We didn’t give the plaintive any money. We were tough, but we were fair. I think we were a pretty reasonable group of people.

Reasonable and fair seem like good qualities to have in a jury. Will it be a tall order to find people like that among those who don’t follow the news or local musical theatre, and have the time available to be on a lengthy trial? And will they be a jury of Daniel Wozniak’s “peers?”

This is How Daniel Bought Me Lunch

On Friday September 25th, Daniel Wozniak went to court.

I went, too.  I wanted to get my own take on what’s going on with this 754-page motion Daniel’s lawyer, public defender Scott Sanders, filed at the end of August.

The overall goal of this motion as it pertains specifically to Daniel’s case?

Here is what I’m understanding:

  1. Daniel and his lawyer want a different judge.
  2. They want the Orange County District Attorney’s Office removed from the case and have it given over to the Attorney General’s Office (as happened in the Scott Dekraai case).
  3. They want the death penalty removed.

Does 754 pages seems excessive to make just those three points?

It isn’t hard to see that there is a lot more to this motion than just the parts that effect Daniel’s case, but, according to Sanders, it is all connected.

There was a front page story in The Orange County Register this past Sunday all about Scott Sanders and how he is “shaking the Orange County legal system to its bedrock.”  That is no exaggeration!  I sometimes imagine DA Matt Murphy taking out his frustrations on a Scott Sanders voodoo doll that he might keep in his briefcase.

Inside the Orange County jail, Daniel is receiving much more favorable reactions to all that has been happening in the OC legal system.  At least from his fellow inmates.  He gets thanked often; there are no dividing lines of race or gang membership when it comes to a dislike for the District Attorney’s Office.

This motion is as important to Daniel as it is to Scott Sanders.  Daniel and Scott are a team, working together to help people whose rights are being violated.  You could say that this has become a life’s mission for both men.

Daniel can turn a little preachy when he gets going on the topic:

corruption quote

Inside the Courtroom

On the 25th, Daniel appeared first before Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett.   The courtroom was unusually full.  There were quite a few of the victims’ family members and friends.  Sam’s and Julie’s parents seemed to have a solid support group.  They all waited so patiently while listening to hours and hours of legal jargon.

The morning was spent on the Defense’s request that the currently assigned judge, John D. Conley, be taken off of Daniel’s case.

Judge Prickett listened to arguments from all sides (including a third party I believe was a representative of Judge Conley) and, in the end, called everyone back on October 2nd to presumably make a decision.  If Judge Conley is removed, that will mean a new judge will basically be starting from scratch, which will take even more time.

There was a much shorter hearing in Judge Conley’s courtroom immediately following.  The Judge made the obvious ruling that in spite of the previous scheduling, there would be no jury trial beginning on October 2nd.

I don’t think that anyone was surprised by this, but there had to be some extreme disappointment from Sam’s and Julie’s families.   In spite of this, they remained calm.

After The Proceedings

As we were all leaving the courtroom, Steve Herr held door open for me.  I thanked him and could swear he smelled like Old Spice, a scent that reminds me of my father, and of loss.  Maybe it was just my imagination.

Beyond learning more about the legal aspects of the case, and morally supporting my friend, I experienced a myriad of emotions that day.

I find these court proceedings truly interesting.   I’m fascinated to see in person what I normally watch on TV.

I was also worried.   Daniel was excited about the motion and happy that he had a friend in the crowd, and this caused him to repeatedly look back at me and smile during the hearing.  I didn’t want my friend to smile at me, or to smile period.  I want him to look serious or contrite or something that doesn’t resemble happy.  I feel like that’s the way to go when you’re being accused of murder.

I overheard the reporters from The OC Register discussing Daniel’s mood, and I was afraid that my presence would cause him to be described as “smirking.”  I found out later that he was given warnings from the Deputies for looking at the audience.  I don’t think Scott Sanders was pleased either.  Daniel didn’t mean anything by it, but that doesn’t matter, does it?

It was his smiling that drew the attention of a producer from the show 20/20 to me.  After seeing him mouth “thank you” in my direction, she approached me in the second courtroom to ask if I was Daniel’s friend.  I said yes, and she asked me if she could take me to lunch.  I agreed.  On the telephone later, Daniel joked that this was the only way he could “buy me lunch.”

I won’t lie. This was exciting. I love 20/20!

She and I talked a lot about my friendship with Daniel, our thoughts on the case, and all the legal wranglings that had happened that day.  We discussed Sam’s and Julie’s families and how painful this whole experience must be for them.

We also talked about my blog.  I said that my topics go from jail mail to court proceedings.

She told me that any program they might do on Daniel’s story will try to give a complete picture of him.  I would hope so.  I guess that includes talking to his friends and maybe even reading their blogs.