It Worked For The Other Guy

I know I promised a post about the recent San Quentin State Prison lockdown, but I’m putting that on the back burner for a bit so I can discuss a major ruling recently made by Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals in the case of the People v. Scott Dekraai.

Who Is Scott Dekraai?

Scott Evans Dekraai has the dubious honor of being the worst mass shooter in Orange County’s history.

On Oct 12, 2011, he walked into a Seal Beach hair salon and gunned down nine employees, patrons, and a bystander outside. Eight of the victims died in the attack, which Dekraai claimed was motivated by his anger over a child custody battle with his ex-wife. She had been one of the stylists at the salon, and died there.

As with Daniel Wozniak five months earlier, the Orange County District Attorney’s office sought the death penalty against Dekraai.

There would end up being many more similarities between the Wozniak and Dekraai cases, the most important being their shared attorney: Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders.

The Wozniak – Dekraai Connection

Sanders would discover some troubling “coincidences” as he prepared to defend his two high-profile clients.

It turned out that while being housed at the Orange County Jail, both men had openly spoken about their criminal activities to another inmate. And this same inmate was, out of the goodness of his heart, willing to testify against Wozniak and Dekraai.

Attorney Scott Sanders didn’t buy it. He started digging into the background of this convenient informant, and ended up discovering a hidden system where inmates were cultivated and then rewarded for getting other inmates to incriminate themselves.

The Orange County Snitch Scandal

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office denied the existence of an informant program. The Orange County DA’s Office claimed no knowledge of such a program, and denied ever using any of the information gleaned from inmates. However, through the Wozniak and Dekraai cases, Scott Sanders brought what was to become known as the infamous Orange County Snitch Scandal to the light of day.

The Orange County Weekly journalist R. Scott Moxley has written numerous outstanding articles on the jailhouse informant controversy / snitch scandal. I highly recommended checking out all his work on the subject, especially a recent cover story about Scott Sanders.

The simplified version: the Orange County Sheriffs had their own “snitches” inside the jail trying to dig up dirt on prisoners, without those prisoners’ knowledge, or attorney consent.

That is illegal.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s nothing compared to the crimes committed by Wozniak or Dekraai.”

True. No doubt about it. But through his research, Sanders discovered this infringement on inmate rights had gone on for decades in Orange County. These sneaky tactics had been used over and over again, but most cases don’t have as much damning evidence as was available in Dekraai’s or Daniel’s.

Sanders Files Motions

Defense attorney Scott Sanders wrote long, detailed, and example-laden motions for each of his clients. The one for Daniel’s case was over seven hundred pages long. The Dekraai motion was over five hundred pages. With these motions, Sanders requested hearings on the legality of having a death penalty sentence in two cases that were so tainted with misconduct on the part of the Orange County justice system.

Judge Thomas Goethals, who presided over the Scott Dekraai case, read the lengthy motion submitted by Sanders and agreed to a hearing.

Goethals decided to completely remove the Orange County DA’s Office from the Scott Dekraai case. Judge Goethals stated that Dekraai could not receive a fair trial from Orange County. The case was then handed over to the California Attorneys Generals Office for prosecution. The Orange County DA fought the ruling and lost.

On a side note, Scott Dekraai actually pled guilty to eight counts of murder back in 2014, before all the informant scandal brouhaha. Scott Sanders wasn’t attempting to get either of his clients released. Dekraai’s guilt was not in question. The issue was how he would be punished.

When Dekraai’s case was handed over to the Attorney General’s office in 2015, it was presumed the death penalty would be dropped.

That’s not what happened.

The Dekraai Decision

Finally, Judge Goethals shocked everyone on August 18, 2017, when he ruled that Scott Evans Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the history of Orange County, would no longer be eligible to receive the death penalty. Instead, Goethals sentenced Dekraai to “eight consecutive sentences without the possibility of parole.”

 Family members of Dekraai’s victims had mixed reactions. There had been a desire to see this killer face the ultimate punishment, but there was also a sense of relief to have the trial over. But a question remained: would those responsible for the illegal informant program be punished for their own crimes? Judge Goethals stated when handing down Dekraai’s sentence, “No individual or agency is above the law.”

Read the Ruling

I’ve attached the nineteen-page ruling by Judge Goethals – which is more interesting than you’d think – but if you don’t want to read it, it basically states that taking away the death penalty was his method of punishing the OCDA for wrongdoings (“Sanctions related to ongoing discovery abuse.”)

Goethals clearly wasn’t happy about having to make this choice. From the ruling:

If this case had been prosecuted from the onset by the Orange County District Attorney within the most fundamental parameters of prosecutorial propriety this defendant would likely today be living alongside other convicted killers on California’s Death Row in the state prison at San Quentin.

And the Wozniak Decision?

That brings us back to my friend Daniel Wozniak, who has been living on death row for a year now.

Judge John D. Conley, who was presiding over Daniel’s case, received Scott Sanders’ 754-page motion, but somehow didn’t find it convincing enough to even grant a hearing on the question of prosecutorial misconduct.

Conley himself was actually named in Sander’s motion for possible involvement in the use of illegal informants during his own time as a prosecutor, but that probably didn’t influence his decision at all… right?

Where Judge Goethals saw egregious behavior on the part of the Orange County Sheriff and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Judge Conley detected no infringement on Daniel Wozniak’s constitutional rights.

I have to say though; Judge Conley must have seen some similarities in the two cases because during Daniel’s trial, Conley once accidentally referred to him as “Daniel Patrick Dekraai.”

Look I’m no “Rocket Lawyer” (“Lawyer Scientist?”), but it sure looks like Daniel will have some major, taxpayer funded, appeals coming his way specifically because of Judge Conley’s refusal to hold a hearing about the use of illegal informants.

I heard (and read) Matt Murphy’s repeated claims that the prosecution wasn’t planning to use any of its illegally obtained information during Daniel’s trial, so nobody’s rights were violated.

Rachel and Tim are Charged… A Consequence of Informant Info?

Although, two years after the crime, and soon after Daniel’s contact with the snitch, the OCDA arrested and filed charges against Rachel Buffett and Daniel’s brother, Tim.

They found out some new information… somewhere…

Even if the Orange County District Attorney learned absolutely nothing from the OC Sheriffs to “use against” Daniel Wozniak during his trial, they still violated his rights. Judge Goethals didn’t need to see the District Attorney’s office use illegally obtained information against Scott Dekraai before he decided to punish the DA by taking away the death penalty.

The Future For Wozniak and Dekraai

Right now, Daniel is on death row, and Scott Dekraai will be heading to a maximum-security prison for his eight life terms without parole. We can assume both men will die behind bars.

But with over seven hundred death row inmates ahead of him, there is a very low likelihood Daniel will ever be executed by the state of California. There will be a lot of money spent on him before he, one day, dies of natural causes.

Maybe there are family members of Dekraai’s victims who are livid that their murderer escaped the death penalty.

During the punishment phase of Daniel’s trial, we heard gut wrenching testimony from the loved ones of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. There was no doubt they wanted Daniel Wozniak to die in San Quentin (sooner rather than later). Sam’s dad, Steve, called Daniel the “poster child” for the need to have a death penalty in California. So, maybe it gives the families a tiny bit of relief from their misery imagining Daniel living “under the threat” of death every day. If so, that seems as good a reason as any for Daniel to be on death row.

I suspect Daniel will spend quite a few years in his current location, but will eventually have his death penalty overturned on appeal.

Don’t stress out though. He’ll still die behind bars. Just not with a view of San Francisco Bay.

More Articles About Goethals and the Dekraai Sentencing

An Open Letter From Daniel Wozniak

Dear Readers,

My name is Daniel Wozniak and if you’re reading this blog, then you obviously know a great deal about me already.

However, it’s been brought to my attention that there are still some curious minds out there inquiring about my day to day life behind bars since being sentenced six months ago.

I understand that for the majority of readers out there, many of you think me to be a heartless, uncaring sociopathic monster who have reserved feelings for not giving a damn about anything concerning my life (other than how soon you wish for it to end). I’m not trying to, nor do I feel I can, take away the pain and hurt I’ve caused you to feel and all I can offer to you is a sincere apology for my actions. I know it will not do much (if anything) to ease the hatred you have for me, but it truly is all I can do at this stage.

The truth is there are no words I can say, or actions that I can perform that will change how you feel, and I’m not trying to rob you of those feelings because I know you need them to help you cope and deal with the pain you’re experiencing.

This letter is not my way of trying to justify my past because nothing on Earth can erase what’s been done. This is merely a response to certain individuals who for some reason or another are curious about life in prison in general. With the overflow of inquiries my friend (the author of this blog) is receiving, I thought writing this might be a way to help answer those questions being regularly asked.

I’ve been given the death penalty and not a day goes by that I don’t feel all the painful thoughts and angry wishes directed my way by so many people. I know in what some of you would consider to be a perfect world, I would have already been put to death, but sadly that’s not the reality of the present.

So what options do I have? I could sit around all day in a small cage doing absolutely nothing but watching the clock hands tick on by… OR… I could actually try to do something with the time I do have left to make SOME form of a positive difference around me.

The majority of my day is spent in the confines of a cell measuring roughly 11′ x 4.5‘ (about 50 sq. feet). I live somewhat akin to a new-age monk. My cell consists of a bed, a toilet, a sink and 2 storage shelves – nothing else. The walls are bare and painted taupe in color; and my cell front consists of an open, metal bar door through which to enter and exit (as well as listen to about 500 other inmates housed around me in this section of Death Row).

My only means of seeing anything in the outside world is by the use of a TV or radio. I also get access to the telephone a couple times during the week to which I’ll get timed fifteen minute calls. I’ll mostly reach out to my blog-writer friend who will keep me posted on current events, and will also touch base with family, other friends and lawyers.

My day starts each morning at around 5 AM, when I wake up and do my daily prayer/study and meditation that I’ve done since being at County. Breakfast arrives between 6-7 AM to our cells on trays (none of us walk to a typical “chow-hall”). The trays are then collected about thirty minutes later and then program within the facility begins.

Depending on the day of the week I’m either going to yard or going to class. San Quentin has seven recreational yards for this section of Death Row. I’m placed on Yard #6 (which has roughly 50 – 100 other inmates classified to be out there with me). All the yards have concrete floor (no grass) and are separated from one another by a gap and chain-link fence. Each yard has a couple stainless-steel-top tables with attached seats, a basketball hoop, a set of dip bars, push up bars and pull up bars (and surprisingly a punching bag).

The yard here is not like most other prisons which are generally racially segregated and for the most part everyone integrates quite well with one another. (We haven’t had a violent incident on our yard for the last 8 years now). Some inmates will play dominos, others will play cards or chess, others will work out and/or lead routines and some guys will just walk laps talking with another inmate as they walk.

Then you have individuals who are more cerebral and will have / lead discussions ranging from topics of law, politics, theology, random jeopardy trivia, etc.  I usually tend to try my hand at a little bit of everything, as do most of the other inmates on the yard (not many stick to doing just one thing). I think because all of us are in the same boat of being under a death sentence, there’s not as much friction or problems experienced elsewhere. (Surprisingly San Quentin statistically has one of the lowest rates of violent activity on the yards in comparison to other California prisons.)

On other days, I attend classes ranging in subject matter. There are several programs made available, but I personally try to focus my field of study to those educational and therapeutic in nature. (Critical Thinking, Nutrition and Meditation, Yoga, etc.). It’s helped me find whatever meaning still remains in this life and with the knowledge under my belt I feel I can pass it on to others. That’s what a great deal of my time is centered on: helping others find meaning and purpose in their own lives.

I know some of you categorize “criminals” as outcasts who don’t deserve another chance at life, but that’s where some others vary in their opinions (including myself). In the many years of my incarceration, I’ve encountered individuals who have given up on themselves to the point of not even wanting to continue living. I guess a part of me feels that if I can help them find that “meaning” that is seriously lacking in their lives, that I can justify my continued existence on this planet while awaiting my execution.

I’m also still very much active in staying up on the ongoing judicial issues. I subscribe to several publications (Prison Legal News, Prison Focus, etc.) and have submitted a couple articles for their consideration. It’s a battle I feel that’s very much worth fighting for. I’m an avid believer of Crime and Punishment as long as it’s legal, but so many issues continue to present themselves with the same win-at-all-costs mentality that continues to plague the justice system. There’s a reason why 70% of death penalty cases have been overturned and / or modified, and why only thirteen people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in California! (And sadly, the public isn’t told the REAL reasons as to why.)

Again, I want to voice this is not ME saying I shouldn’t be here – but there are (and have been) so many people given this sentence who truthfully do not deserve it legally. Not to mention the countless others who have already died unjustly here of natural causes; people who technically should never have been here in the first place.

Those who ‘legally’ shouldn’t be here aren’t being punished by death… they’re being murdered! (Think about it!)

Spirituality also plays a crucial role in my life, as well as in the lives of other inmates at San Quentin. The prison offers several religious services (Catholic, Protestant, Judaism, Islam, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon Latter-Day Saints and Native American Indian Tribal Councils). Due to the large number of inmates and a limited number of seats in the chapel area, sometimes you only get called out for service once a month. The television, however, provides an excellent array of broadcast services that you can tune into everyday, which is very nice.

I’m currently also enrolled in a couple of Bible Colleges that I do via correspondence through the mail in addition to keeping in contact with various chaplains I’ve met over the years and still keep in touch with. The yard also provides an excellent means in which to learn, minister, teach and study with so many interested individuals from so many different backgrounds. Everyone comes together and shares their faith and testimonies of how their “path” has brought them some form of inner peace and it reassures fellow believers that faith is a powerful tool which can save and improve so many lives in various ways.

I never thought I’d ever see the day where so many people from different religions and cultures aren’t as hostile and dominant in defending their religion, but rather share, add to and grow the unity of everyone around. There’s so much to learn!

The final thing to mention is handcuffs. Every time you leave your cell for ANY kind of movement, you are placed in handcuffs. You are then either escorted to wherever your destination is with a Correctional Officer escorting you the whole way or you walk alone to said destination, cuffed with your hands behind you back. You’re even handcuffed when going to the shower. It’s a shared community shower stall (that’s twice the size of your cell) and you get showers every other day. However, most everyone here has ways to shower creatively in their cells so we can shower every day, anytime we want.

After showers, the final action of the day before final lockdown is mail pickup and drop-off. This occurs at around 6:30 – 7:00 PM, Monday – Friday. The C.O. will hand us the mail we receive, then pick up our outgoing mail. Next he will apply a secondary lock on the cell door for added security each evening. (This is called “dropping the bar”). From 8:OO PM – 7:00 AM, everyone is locked inside and there is no movement ANYWHERE within the building and it’s “lights out.” Then the cycle repeats each and every day, very much like the film, Groundhog Day.

I hope this helps answer the questions some of you have been asking and that you all have a closer look into the prison that has now become my life. I wish you all well and hope this ‘view into prison’ helps answer your inquiries. Have a nice day.

Respectfully,

Daniel Wozniak

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.

Sentencing Day Part Two: Victim Impact Statements

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

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

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

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

Victim Impact Statements Prior To Sentencing

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

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

Sam Herr’s Family Victim Impact Statements

Sam’s cousin Leah was up first.

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

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

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

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

Steve Herr’s Statements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Kibuishi’s Family Victim Impact Statements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Wozniak’s Response To The Victim Impact Statements

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

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

Judge Conley Sentences Daniel Wozniak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing Day

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

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

Normally, I visit him on Mondays.

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

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

No phone call.

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

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

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

The Sentencing Hearing of Daniel Wozniak

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

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

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

Then there was me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, I’m okay with it.

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

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

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

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

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

Sanders’ Last Motion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Next…

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

Daniel’s Comments on Comments

There probably won’t be much to blog about Daniel and his case for the next eight weeks, because he’s not scheduled to be sentenced until September 23rd. This doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon the blog or anything, but the posts might be fewer and farther in between (as you possibly have already noticed – so sorry).

I want you guys to know that I truly value the blog readers. It doesn’t matter if you like what I write about or not, I just think it’s great that people take time to read anything I’ve written at all. I’m especially appreciative when comments are left. I know it takes me FOREVER to reply to comments. I will be honest with you, I need to be in a certain state of mind to tackle comment reading and replying. I have to be feeling “thick skinned,” I guess.

I have mentioned writing a book about this topic more than once in the blog. Some of you think it’s a great idea and some of you think I’m fame seeking and money grubbing. That’s cool. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. My dad used to say “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one.”

I’m not calling you folks assholes. So please re-read the quote before you get all “typey typey” on the comments page.

I think I do need to shift my focus into figuring out what kind of book I want to write. Because I’m not exactly sure yet. I do know it won’t be your regular “true crime” book. Which is funny, because that’s what I’d set out to write in the first place.

As for this current post, I’m letting Daniel help me “write” it.

I always send him copies of my posts after they are made public. I want to get his take on what I wrote, and find out if he agrees or disagrees with any points I’ve made. I also send him your comments.

He started writing a few replies to the comments for me because:

  • He felt compelled to reply to some of you.
  • He wanted me to know his thoughts and feelings about some of the readers’ opinions.
  • He didn’t want me to have to assume his answers to readers’ questions.

Admittedly, Daniel was really only writing his comments for me. He didn’t mean for me to put his words all over the blog. I talked to him about it, though.

I explained that a lot of what he says is thought provoking, and conveys the Daniel I see and have befriended. I asked for permission to share a bit of what he wrote to me. He agreed and was fine with me paraphrasing or editing him (for clarity of understanding and fluidity of language).

Unfortunately, Daniel didn’t start at the very beginning.

Which is a very good place to start.

I have been reading this from start to finish since watching Dateline, which I saw by chance.

I am curious.

How much cash did Daniel get from Sam’s account?

Was it Worth it? ~ j.n., February 4, 2016, commenting on the post “Guilty – Part 4”

Daniel’s response:

“I believe the entire amount taken was $1500 (from three days of ATM withdrawals). But the amount is of money is only worth bringing up if you choose to believe the prosecution’s theory of a financial motive. Either way, no amount of money is worth a person’s life.”

Is there an official transcript of the police report in which Rachel said she saw the “phantom” hooded friend? Since the whole case against her is circumstantial, her wording is crucial. In interviews (like Dr. Phil) she says it’s doubtful that she used the words “I saw…”, and that she thinks she put it more like “there was…” (presumably because Dan had told her of a third party and at that point she had no reason to disbelieve him). Everyone’s arguing, but so far, nobody that I know of has come forth and just shown what it is she EXACTLY said.

Also, where is she now? Does she have to go to trial too? I heard she was arrested with $1M bail. Has she been in jail all this time? If not, how much time has she spent behind bars? ~ Scott, January 31st, 2016, commenting on the post “Guilty – Part 5”

First Daniel made a joke about how he hopes this wasn’t his defense attorney, Scott Sanders.

“You can find a copy of Rachel’s statement by reviewing her interrogation interview.”

Ummm, and how might we obtain that, Daniel?

Daniel continued, “The first time Rachel talked to the Costa Mesa Police Department was at the apartment of Rachel’s brother, Noah. During that initial contact, Rachel said she ‘saw’ the third unknown guy who was with Sam on the day of his murder. At her first official interrogation, Rachel again stated that she ‘saw’ the guy.

“After that,” Daniel continued, “Rachel’s story changed. Then she claimed what she meant to say to the police is that she had just ‘heard’ there was a third man from Daniel. She believed it to be fact and she was trying to give detectives all the information without having any omissions.

“It’s tricky to determine what she said and what she meant, but why would she choose to say that she actually ‘saw”’ this man originally? Rachel has been very careful when making statements, so what reason / benefit would there be for her to tell the police that a third man was present?

“Likewise, remember that Rachel failed to say that Chris Williams was with Rachel at her and my apartment when Sam was murdered. Why make one person vanish (especially someone who can be your alibi), and yet make up the existence of a third unknown mystery man? You will have to ask her that yourself, but if she had nothing to hide, why lie?

“Also, Rachel is out on bail currently. It wasn’t a million dollars. Maybe closer to $3,500. She spent four days in jail during Thanksgiving of 2012.

“Rachel was offered a plea bargain a while back for testifying against me. She refused.”

 I am fascinated as to Daniel’s thinking process by planning these two murders and the disposal of the one body. I feel that he is much like all the rest of us but he faltered that one time. Had he not he would be free today. I am curious as to what his specific plans were in committing the murders and what he imagined the outcome would be????? ~ R. Harris, February 1st, 2016

(You and me both, R).

 Daniel’s response:

“Well Mr. Harris, let me just say there wasn’t much planning in this tragedy. Things happened and it became a ’what to do’ situation as a result. I’m human, like the rest of you. We all fuck up sometimes. I never had any criminal background, and I lived a very typical life. I know it may be difficult to believe, but there was no specific plan in Sam’s murder. Everything fell apart in trying to ‘clean up’ a horrible mistake. If anyone deserves to be in jail, it’s me.”

Seems unlikely that he faltered once, and then went on to kill two innocent people, laughing while dismembering one. At the very least, he “faltered” twice. ~ Bill, April 2, 2016

 Daniel’s response:

“Hi Bill. I have faltered way more than twice. But this was my worst. This situation is so emotionally painful. Life is irreplaceable. Death is so final. And so many people are affected by it. I never felt my actions would cause so much damage. It is difficult to think of the future when you’re so caught up in the moment. I let emotion get the better of me and now so many people are suffering the consequences as a result. I would gladly give up my life if it meant I could bring back Sam and Julie.”

That’s it for this post. I hope you found Daniel’s responses interesting. If you’re anything like me, you probably have a slew of new questions now as a result. If so, I hope you share them in the comments. And if you have any thoughts on the direction you like to see the book take, I’d welcome those as well.

Waiting for the Punishment

For the last little while my blog has been all about the trial. I’ve been studying, questioning, and dissecting everything I’ve seen and heard and noticed. I took tons of notes. At some point I’m just going to suck it up and pay for the entire court transcript, though, because there is no way I caught it all.

I find it extremely interesting to see a trial unfold. What steps did the police take to solve the case? Was it the forensics? DNA? Maybe some video footage from a nearby security camera? And then there are the lawyers. Can I just tell you how cool I thought it was that I’d get to watch Matt Murphy in action? (I’d seen him on Dateline.)

Just from a courtroom junkie’s point of view, Daniel’s trial had it all. That’s why the media was always there in full force. But watching a court case on 48 Hours or 20/20 is a very different experience from being there in person. I wasn’t on the couch in my jammies. (I did sometimes eat snacks, though. Very quiet snacks.)

I had a personal interest in this case. This was my friend on trial. My friend who did some terrible and unforgivable things (and he’s the first to admit that), but still my friend.

You know, basically I do write this blog for myself. It’s a creative outlet, and it gives me a way to really scrutinize and investigate my friendship with Daniel, especially now that he is a convicted murderer.

I felt wound up and nervous when I sat in that courtroom. It was easy for people to figure out  I was there to support Daniel. He’d glance around and smile at me when he was walked in, and I’d see people turn around and try to figure me out. I knew that some of the principal players were reading my blog and I always felt this urge to explain myself. I wanted to tell people that I don’t think Daniel is innocent.  I don’t feel sorry for him that he’s in jail. I don’t doubt that he is a murderer, but I know he isn’t a monster.

I can already hear some of you typing your comments.

The jury did not agree with me. It took them less than an hour to decide Daniel should die.

When they went into deliberations at around 3:30, I don’t think anyone was expecting a verdict that day. Just in case, I had decided to hang around until 5:00 because that’s when the jury would go home for the day. A number of other people seemed to be doing the same thing.

Earlier that day, during the lunch break, I’d approached Mike the Bailiff to make a request.  I really wanted to be present when the jury came back with the verdict. Whether you believe Daniel deserves to have a friend or not, I was determined he’d have one in court when he learned his fate. So I wanted to know how I could get on a list of people who are notified when a verdict comes in.  The media people always seemed to know when things were happening and I thought there might be some kind of computerized contact list I could get on. I didn’t want a phone call or anything. I was just hoping for a group text.

I asked Mike if he knew who I was (Daniel’s friend). He smiled and said, “Hey there, blue hair.” Him quoting my blog made me laugh and helped me feel a little calmer (thanks, Mike).

Mike explained to me that there was no contact list. If I wanted to be notified, I would need to ask lead defense attorney Scott Sanders about it.

Gulp.

It’s ironic that even though I was there to support Daniel, I’d had virtually no contact with Scott. I wasn’t sure about his feeling on having a blogger write about his client at the same time he was trying to save the guy from the death penalty. The idea of approaching Scott made me nervous, but I was determined to not miss the reading of the verdict.

Remember, this was happening during the lunch break when I still thought the jury might actually take longer than 45 minutes to decide if Daniel should die.

So, I decided to muster my courage and try to talk to…Tracy LeSage Scott’s way-less-intense second in command.

When I saw the defense team getting off the elevator after lunch, I figured this was my best chance to get on that “group text” list I hoped existed. They all went into the courtroom, and I slipped in right after them.

Scott and Tracy were deep in discussion and pouring over paperwork, so I thought maybe I could get away with asking one of the young assistant lawyer guys about contacting me. I hoped I could discreetly give him my cell number and sneak away.

NOPE.

Scott stopped talking and looked up at me from his papers. As I choked out my request, I felt a tad out of place with my blue hair and tattoos. And I’m so short, I felt like a little kid standing in the middle of this sea of suit-wearing real grownups.

Scott Sanders looked perplexed. Then, he said that was fine, and to give my number to the other lawyer guy, who would call me when the verdict was in.

Calling. Old school.

Later, Daniel told me that Scott Sanders had asked him if it was okay for me to be contacted.  Daniel did want me called, but it turned out to be a moot point anyway.

I was one of the few people still in the courtroom when the phone rang on Mike the Bailiff’s desk. I figured it would just be the jury asking a question.  Maybe they needed a part of the transcript read back to them.  Perhaps they wanted some clarification on the specifics of a law.

Even Mike looked surprised when he announced that the jury already a verdict.

I stayed in my seat while the news spread to the people in the hallway. No one needed to be called on the phone.

I was more worried than I’d thought I’d be. I had always expected the jury would choose the death penalty, but inside me there was still a little battle going on between hope and fear. Admittedly, fear was kicking hope’s ass because of how fast the jury was coming back. There wasn’t nearly enough time for them to get all existential and decide that “an eye for an eye” might not be the way to go.

Sam’s and Julie’s loved ones sat all together in the center section in an obvious showing of solidarity. People  clung to each other and held hands.

I was surprised how quickly the water works came on me as soon as the verdict was announced. Lots of people were crying and wailing. It seemed more like tears of relief than of happiness, with an underlying feeling of heartbreak.

When it was all finished, the jury members smiled at the Herrs and the Kibuishis while they filed past them down the aisle. Eventually everyone had left the courtroom except me and Mike. I asked him if I could hang out for a few minutes and he obliged. I just couldn’t bring myself to go out in that crowded hallway quite yet.

I sat there with my face in my hands, crying for everyone.