Home Sweet Home

Daniel Wozniak has been at San Quentin State Prison for over a month now and I know many of my readers have questions about how he’s settling in on death row.

For the first couple of weeks, Daniel was in the SHU. That’s the Special Handling Unit, where prisoners are sent when they have gotten into some type of behavior trouble in their regular housing unit. Apparently, San Quentin also uses the SHU as a holding unit for incoming prisoners.

When I read about that in Daniel’s first letter from DR (death row), I was concerned for his welfare. San Quentin seemed intimidating enough without being placed in the most dangerous “time-out” area in California.

It turned out this only meant Daniel would be unable to make phone calls or have visits until he’d been processed into one of the regular DR housing units.

I can imagine that taking away a prisoner’s phone and visiting privileges would be a genuine punishment, but I had imagined something scarier. Think Daryl on The Walking Dead being held prisoner by Negan and the Saviors.

The truth is, the living conditions at the Orange County Jail are a lot worse than even the SHU at San Quentin. I think that is the case with most prisons in California. They are all better living environments than county jails because they are designed for long term stays.

Daniel was in the OC Jail for six and a half years. That place was designed for people to stay months, not years. So for him, SQ is a big improvement. He’s been institutionalized for so long that within a week he was making a makeshift clothes drying line for his cell (using melted and re-shaped bar soap to stick homemade thread to a flat cement wall).

Jail MacGyver?

Living Conditions On Death Row

Daniel wrote me that the food in SQ is miles above and beyond the cuisine available at the Orange County Jail. It is higher quality and the portions are plentiful. The expression “three hots and a cot” is fairly accurate. He’s brought a hot breakfast and the fixings for his lunch in the morning. Then there is another hot meal served at dinner. So two “hots,” and a cold.

As far as the “cot” goes, Daniel is a lot happier with his bed now, too. It’s no Posturepedic, but compared to the “yoga mat” thin mattresses at the county jail, it’s an improvement.

For the first time in years, now that he’s in prison Daniel gets to enjoy the “great outdoors.” He got sunburned during the first week because he hadn’t been in the sun for so long. He also told me about still choosing to take his yard time one day, even though it was pouring rain. He thought he’d be the only prisoner willing to stand in the rain for hours (once they go out, they have to stay out the entire duration of yard time), but many inmates still chose getting soaked to being a cell.

I can’t say I blame them.

Daniel was moved to his assigned cell early in November and he was able to use the telephone again. He sounded the same as always. Chatty, funny, and filled with interesting stories. He’s pleased because he has access to both the extensive law library and the well-stocked regular library.

Today we talked about a “Critical Thinking” class he attended.  The topic of discussion was the Dunning-Kruger Effect  , which is basically when people think they are a lot smarter than they actually are.

He told me about working out in the yard while “Highway to the Danger Zone” and other 80s classics were played over a loud speaker. He played Chinese checkers with another inmate and a psychiatrist. Since arriving at San Quentin, he got a physical and visited the dentist. He’s also been to therapy.

Does all this mean that it’s a treat to be sentenced to death row in California? No. Of course not. But Daniel Wozniak was already institutionalized long before he arrived on DR.

There is no way I would trade my life for Daniel’s. Sure, I don’t like traffic on the freeway. I’m not a fan of waiting in line at the grocery store. Paying bills is no treat, and my email box is always filled with junk.

But if facing the day to day minutiae is what makes it possible to be with my family and have control over my own life, I’ll choose that over being kept in a cage any day.

The meditation and focused breathing class he attended this afternoon sounded kind of cool,  though.

Daniel wishes he could go back in time and undo the horrible things he did. However, it isn’t because he feels sorry for himself in any way. So many people’s lives have been destroyed because of his selfishness and stupidity, and he does live with that guilt every day.

Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi don’t get to eat three meals a day. They don’t get a good night’s sleep. They don’t get to read books or listen to music. They can’t take classes or work out or play Chinese checkers. They’ll never feel the sun or rain again. Sam and Julie can’t send letters to their family and friends. They won’t get any phone calls or visits.

Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi had their lives stolen from them, and the two of them were stolen from their loved ones.

California 2016 Death Penalty Propositions

On November 9, California voted on two death penalty related propositions:

Proposition 62 was to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. It lost with 54% of the vote.

Proposition 66 was to change procedures governing state court challenges to death sentences.

It won by 51% of the vote.

Daniel Wozniak’s life won’t be changed much with these election results…at least not for now. It does show that California isn’t quite ready to give up the option of capital punishment.

I don’t agree with the death penalty, but I understand why someone might feel that Daniel’s current living environment isn’t quite enough of a punishment for what he did.

Side Post – A Court Update

Daniel was in court again on Monday June 13. This time, I was able to go.

You might be thinking, “Hey, I thought the jury already gave him a death penalty verdict. Why isn’t he languishing away in San Quentin by now?” There’s a big difference between a jury’s recommendation and actually being sentenced.  Until Judge Conley makes his final decision, Daniel will remain in the Orange County Jail.

If you’re wondering what’s holding up the decision, I’d say it’s the tenacity of Daniel’s defense attorney, Scott Sanders.

The Inmate Informants Controversy

Throughout this entire process, Scott Sanders has claimed the Orange County Sheriffs and the Orange County District Attorney’s office hid evidence from the defense, and this evidence was a result of an illegal use of inmate informants at the OC Jail.

From the beginning, all the accusations were denied. But when Sanders dug up proof of an informant network, Matt Murphy claimed that it was a moot point anyway because he wasn’t going to use the information during Daniel’s trial. There was nothing relevant learned about Daniel’s case.

I’m pretty sure Scott Sanders would respond with a “Let me be the judge of that.” Especially since he ended up finding proof of what he’s been claiming all along.

But Sanders isn’t the judge, so he needs to convince Judge Conley that the defense has the legal right to see ALL the information that was collected on his client. Matt Murphy does not agree, and so, even though his trial ended over four months ago, Daniel still hasn’t been sentenced.

Now, before you get all pissy at Scott Sanders and blame him solely for the seemingly endless delays in Daniel’s sentencing, you should know that Sanders has repeatedly stated the defense is not trying to free Daniel or contest the guilty verdict. Sanders does want the death penalty removed, and he wants to make sure Daniel got a completely fair and legal trial.

That is his job, after all.

Obviously Matt Murphy has a job to do as well, and it’s a damn important one: get justice for the victims. With Daniel’s sentencing repeatedly delayed, it’s no surprise the victims’ family members are frustrated and angry.

In recent weeks, though, new revelations pointing to information being hidden has surfaced. Sanders has learned of the existence of over 1,000 pages of records kept by OC Sheriff’s deputies who were in a “special handling” unit in charge of those previously non-existent jailhouse informants.

Matt Murphy and the DA’s Office have stated that they were unaware of this “blog” kept by the Sheriffs. Murphy still stands behind his assertion that none of it is relevant in Daniel’s case.

But if Scott Sanders is a tad doubtful, and he wants to look at this “blog” for himself, then he should get to look at it… and he shouldn’t be blamed for the time taken to do so.

How Does The Informants Controversy Matter In The Wozniak Case?

You know what? There probably isn’t a damn thing in those notes that will change the outcome of Daniel’s sentence. That’s not the point.

Murphy is asking for the death penalty, so doesn’t it make sense to at least confirm that Daniel’s rights weren’t violated? For those of you who want him dead, think about it this way: do you want Daniel coming back on appeal?

While I was sitting in the courtroom Monday, listening to the back and forth between Murphy and Sanders, a ridiculous analogy popped into my head.

A couple is having an argument because the woman thinks the man is cheating on her. By the way, for the purpose of this example, I’m using a male / female couple to simplify my pronoun use.

Anyway, he profusely denies cheating, but she just doesn’t believe him. She asks to look at his texts. He says he doesn’t have any texts on his phone. She still doesn’t believe him. She’s heard rumors that he cheated on past girlfriends.

She points out that his clothes smell like another woman’s perfume, and he explains that he was attacked by one of those scent sprayers in Macy’s. He promises that there’s nothing tawdry to be found in his texts, and it would be a waste of everyone’s time for her to read them.

Wait a minute.  Did he originally say there weren’t any texts at all?

Then she points out a lipstick stain on the collar of his shirt. He tells her that it’s from his grandma hugging him when he picked her up from the old-folks home to take her to lunch. She doesn’t believe him. She wants to see the texts and she’s not giving up.

So he lets her see two of his texts. One is from his boss and one from his sister. He tells her that all the texts are that innocent, and there is no need for her to look at the rest of them. But there were hundreds more texts, and she refuses to believe they are all from bosses and sisters. “Who’s Brittany? Your sister’s name isn’t Brittany.”

It’s not impossible that the guy has a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of it. Brittany might even be grandma’s caretaker, for all we know.  He even has a logical reason why there was a receipt for the No Tell Motel in his pants pocket. But with all that explaining, why not just let her read the texts?

I know it’s a silly comparison, but also I think it’s a silly argument.

Judge Conley (Would he be the couples’ therapist in my scenario?) decided today that Scott Sanders would not get to see the rest of those secret “blog” notes.

Not much of a surprise there. Conley decided that since the DA didn’t know about the notes, there was no way they could have used them against Daniel during his trial.

Judge Conley did set a new sentencing date. On September 23, he will decide whether or not to uphold the jury’s recommendation to send Daniel to death row.

That’s the schedule for now, at least…

It’s worth noting that Californians will vote on whether or not to repeal the death penalty this November.

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.

Penalty Phase – Prosecution Witnesses

After opening arguments in the penalty phase of Daniel’s trial, it was time for the prosecution witnesses.

Miles Foltz

The first witness was Sam Herr’s best friend, fellow combat veteran Miles Foltz.

Okay, if you are Matt Murphy, and it’s your goal to make the jury hate Daniel Wozniak, then Miles Foltz is a dream witness. Here was this tough looking solider guy who couldn’t stop his voice from cracking with emotion while he talked about his best friend Sam and how they were stationed together at Camp Keating in Afghanistan. Miles opened up about the daily dangers they faced during that time in “the fish bowl,” and how they joked about their bullet dodging skills.

“No matter where we’d go, we’d always get shot at, but they never got us,” Miles Foltz choked out.  It was during their time at Camp Keating that Sam accrued quite a bit of combat pay, which all went into the bank because there was, “no place to spend your money.”

Sam and Miles had even made a “we’ll be each other’s best man” plan for when either of them got married, but when Miles Foltz did get married, his friend Sam wasn’t there.  He had survived combat only to be was murdered after coming home. Sam’s dad Steve Herr stood in for his son as the best man at Miles wedding.

Remember the end of the last post, when I told you to bring tissues..

The defense didn’t have many questions for Miles during the cross, but Scott Sanders asked him if he’d met Rachel Buffet and if she had ever made any comments about having an issue with a loan shark. Yes and yes.  And during the re-cross, we learned this made him immediately suspicious of Rachel and Daniel.  That’s one of the reasons Miles contacted the police and Steve Herr when Sam went missing.

I had no idea that the term “loan shark” was still in use until this trial. The expression seems so Jimmy Cagney/Turner Classic Movies.

When the grief-stricken Miles Foltz left the stand, Sam’s parents embraced him.  The prosecution could have stopped right there and still easily convinced the jury to choose the death penalty. But they did not.

Steve Herr

The next witness for the prosecution: Steve Herr

Steve Herr (who pronounces his name like “hair”) is easily recognizable with his grey hair and blazer. During the hearings, he always wore jeans, but he switched to khakis during the actual trial.

I’ve spoken with Steve on a few occasions and overheard him talking on many others. He is a chatty guy who has remained personable throughout this nightmare. All the media people know him.  He greets with hugs and handshakes and smiles. This man who could be a “grandfather type” from central casting won’t have that opportunity now, because his only child was murdered.

Sam grew up in California, near Magic Mountain.  Without going into specifics, Steve Herr admitted that his son had gotten into some trouble when he was younger, but Sam had made a complete turnaround after joining the Army.  “The event,” as Steve referred to Sam’s killing, happened right before finishing his first year of college.

Steve Herr’s testimony was gut-wrenching.  He often apologized about “rambling on,” as anger and frustration poured out him while he jumped from point to point.

When he found Julie’s body in Sam’s apartment, he called 911 immediately and was positive that his son hadn’t done it.

  • When he found Julie’s body in Sam’s apartment, he called 911 immediately and was positive that his son hadn’t done it.
  • “I wanted to find the MF who did this!”
  • For reasons that were not explained, he’d had a deep fear that Sam would be dismembered, and then he found that to be the case.
  • On his son’s birthday, he was praying that they find Sam’s head so they could give him a proper burial.
  • “The worst thing you can ask of a man is to feel helpless,” he stated about not protecting his only son.
  • He talked about his wife Raquel and how sad she looks when she sees people with their children.
  • Steve Herr said of seeing Sam at his funeral that he “never want(s) to forget seeing (his) son all sewed up.” He never wants to forget the evil.
  • Even though Steve didn’t personally witness the dismemberment of Sam’s body, he can’t stop picturing Daniel “hacking and sawing” his son.

The human mind is fascinating.  I don’t doubt what happened, but I’m personally not able to picture the man I know as my friend doing those horrific actions. Truth is, I have tried, actually, but the mental image morphs into him being on-stage and waving his arms around during a musical number.  I probably just don’t want to be able to “see” it, you know? It’s easier to be his friend that way.

 When Steve Herr finished testifying, the defense chose to not ask any cross-examination questions.  That seemed like the smart choice.  Sometimes I feel like Steve might dislike Scott Sanders as much as he does Daniel Wozniak.

Raquel Herr

The next witness up was Sam’s mother, Raquel Herr.

This was the first time the jury would hear from Sam’s mom. Unlike Steve, she wasn’t an actual witness in the criminal case.

Raquel said that even though she had been told she could not have children, she was blessed with her only child when she was 35.  Sam was her “prince,” she told the jury, and while the police and her husband were searching for Sam, her fear and anxiety caused to her to be bedridden for six days.

At one point, the judge had to ask Raquel to slow down for the court reporter.  She apologized to the jury that her emotions and Spanish accent were making her difficult to understand.

Raquel Herr said she has God and her faith, and she doesn’t want to be angry. She wasn’t on the stand for long, but her impact was powerful.

Again, there was no cross-examination by the defense.

Miriam Nortman

After Raquel Herr, her twin sister, Miriam Nortman, took the stand.

Sam’s aunt, the self-proclaimed “firecracker” in the family, was overwrought as she explained how difficult it was to see her sister suffer. She spoke of the joy felt by their entire family when Sam was born. But now Miriam’s own children and grandchildren are a constant reminder of what her poor sister lost when Sam was killed.

Her anger and sadness boiled over as she explained that when she thinks about her nephew being dismembered, it makes her feel like her own arm, leg and head were being cut off.

Again, the defense made the smart choice of not cross-examining the witness.  Why upset these people more, right? There is the stereotype of the ruthless defense attorney who will do anything to free a client, but I just don’t think that is Scott Sanders.  He seems like a guy who just cares a lot about the law and following it to the letter.

The Kibuishi Family

The next group of witnesses would be members of Julie’s family, with Taka Kibuishi, Julie’s older brother, called first.

This is not to belittle Sam’s murder, but just for me personally, the murder of Julie has always been the most heartbreaking in this crime. She just seemed like such a sweet and defenseless innocent.  There really wasn’t a huge age difference between Sam and Julie, but Sam had seen so much of the world and he had faced death before. It’s like he’d at least had the opportunity to live, but she was just getting started.  Also, she was a girl.  Yup, I have a double standard there.  Anyway, Daniel knows that I am particularly sickened by the murder of Julie. I don’t mince words with him.  He knows that I am his friend, but I won’t ever forget why he is where he is.

As you probably all know, Julie had been wearing a princess tiara when she was shot twice in the head.  It’s a small element to the story, but its symbolism is gut-wrenching.  She still lived at home with her parents, she had a Taylor Swift ringtone, and she was wearing a tiara when she was murdered.  Julie was wearing that tiara because her brother Taka had given it to her over dinner.  She had just been asked by Taka and his fiancée to be a bridesmaid in their wedding.

Have you notices that there are a lot of weddings in this story: Taka’s, Miles’ and Rachel and Daniel’s?

Taka continued by saying they’d gone out to a restaurant that evening to celebrate and “everything was great.”  Six months later, when the police returned Julie’s car to her family, they would find the leftover Thai food that had been sitting in it since that dinner.

Taka Kibuishi described the closeness of his family.  He talked about how the two older Kibuishi brothers always looked out for the two younger sisters.  There was help with studying and creating job resumes.  Taka had even grilled Julie about her relationship with Sam, who Julie had insisted was just like another big brother.

Julie Kibuishi was sweet, artistic, talkative and a great dancer.  The arts high school that she’d attended is very close to the Santa Ana courthouse, so the Kibuishi family is constantly reminded of happier times whenever they return to this neighborhood.

I have a personal connection to that arts school.  The kids there are amazing.  After a rigorous academic school day, they spend an extra three hours a day taking classes focused entirely on their artistic discipline.

Taka’s love for his little sister was undeniable as he broke down on the stand, beating himself up for not stopping her from going to Sam’s apartment that fateful night.  “I had so many chances to try to stop her,” he lamented. And Julie’s murder has caused so much stress and grief for this very private family.

His anger flared as he described Daniel Wozniak as a disgusting monster who had disrespected his beautiful sister just to use her as a decoy.

You know the expression, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house?” Well, there wasn’t. 

The defense did not cross examine this witness either.

At that point, Judge Conley decided to break for the day.

As I watched the jury file out of the courtroom, noticeably moved by Taka’s words, the expression “another nail in the coffin” seemed fitting in describing Daniel’s fate.

Up Next: More Prosecution Witnesses…

In the next post, I’ll continue with the prosecution witnesses and you’ll get to hear the defense’s argument for giving Daniel life without the possibility of parole.

If you haven’t been following the story in the news, Daniel’s sentencing hearing has been re-scheduled for May.  Scott Sanders is filing a brief to have the death penalty removed in Daniel’s case.

Penalty Phase – Opening Arguments

The penalty phase of Daniel’s trial started on January 4, 2016. Court began at 10:30 that day, and I was bundled up while walking to the Orange County Courthouse. I’d even broken out gloves and a scarf for this Californian’s version of a winter morning (I think it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so, brrrrrr).

Or, it’s possible that heading up to the eighth floor to watch twelve people decide if my friend should be put to death made me feel cold from the inside out.

The guilt phase of Daniel’s trial was all about facts. But, in the penalty phase, emotions would dominate.

Before the jury could be brought into the courtroom, the judge made some rulings on whether or not to allow certain photographs relating to Sam Herr’s funeral into evidence:

• A photo of Sam’s parents being handed a folded American flag: Allowed.
• Soldiers carrying Sam’s casket: Not allowed.
• Sam’s former fiancée crying over his casket: Allowed.
• Umm, I think there was one of Sam with a puppy he adopted while serving in Afghanistan: Not allowed.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly didn’t want the jury to give Daniel the death penalty, but was one “puppy picture” going to tip the scale? Of course, people do love puppies. I love puppies. Would it have taken the jury even less time to decide on death if they had seen the puppy picture?

Then there was discussion about the Google searches found on the computer from Daniel and Rachel’s apartment. The jury had already seen the searches during the guilt phase, but Scott Sanders didn’t want them to be reminded that inquiries about cruise ship amenities coincided with questions about hiding bodies. Judge Conley said the law was strict where the death penalty applied, and he ruled that the jury didn’t need to see certain information twice.

I am pretty sure that no one could forget those searches anyway.

Judge Conley gave the jury additional instructions when they were finally brought in at 10:50 AM: “Nothing the attorney says or asks is evidence. Only what the witness says is evidence.”

Okay! Everyone… ignore the lawyers!

Next, there was an explanation about the difference between mitigating and aggravating circumstances. Mitigating circumstances should lean the jury away from choosing the death penalty; aggravating circumstances are the “let’s fry him” details.

So far, there hadn’t been much in the way of mitigating circumstances, so I wondered if we could expect some from Scott during this phase of the trial.

The penalty phase is almost its own mini trial. It starts with opening arguments. Then there’s the questioning and cross-examining of witnesses, and it ends with closing arguments.

An interesting little side note: Normally the prosecution has an opportunity to give a rebuttal after the defense closes. However, because of a previous ruling in this case by Judge Conley, the defense would actually have the last word during the penalty phase. This caused a great deal of contention for Matt Murphy, who continuously tried to fight this motion up until the end of the trial.

Then, it was time to get started. Everyone was in their place. Matt Murphy was raring to go.

Another side note (sorry, but this one is directed to Matt, Scott and Tracy): As a theatre director I need to tell ALL the attorneys to SPEAK UP. My goodness, you folks need to learn how to project and enunciate. Seriously. This is not meant as an insult. It’s just constructive criticism. Maybe you’re trying to make a more intimate connection with the jury. If that’s the case, you can accomplish this without dropping your volume. I’d even be willing to rehearse with any of you if you’d like. As an example, remember on Monday when we were all waiting around in the courtroom for that other case to finish? Well, I had no trouble hearing those attorneys, and they had their backs to the audience. So, just sayin’.

And back to court.

Matt Murphy was up. He started by talking about Daniel’s life. He directed the jury to his first PowerPoint slide.

But, in a rare move for the defense in this case, Scott Sanders actually piped up with “Objection,” and said he needed to address the court in chambers.

MMTVL was intrigued.

Daniel was left alone at the defense table. Usually, he would just stare forward. Maybe he was making anagrams out of the letters on the seal of California.

When everyone was back, Matt Murphy went back to the PowerPoint and BAM, Scott was objecting again. Some spectators scoffed at his request to return to chambers.

Daniel even turned from the table to give me a quick confused glance.

They returned from chambers, and the judge explained what was causing the commotion. The first objection was to some information about Daniel’s life and background contained on one of the PowerPoint slides. During the first trip to chambers, the slide was ruled inadmissible.

BUT…

It turns out that slide was still up on the screen when the machine was turned back on. This meant that the jury could have easily seen the inadmissible information.

Hence Scott’s second objection.

Oops?

This could have turned into a huge ordeal, but Judge Conley wasn’t going to stop the trial quite yet.

In addressing the jury, he wanted to know if any of them had seen the information on the slide. Show of hands? Then each of those jury members were brought into chambers to be individually questioned by the judge and the attorneys. After all was said and done, it was agreed that everyone could just forget whatever they saw and we could get on with our trial.

Phew?

So, what was on that slide? Really, it was just information about how Daniel’s background had been pretty normal. Maybe Matt wanted to point out that Daniel had no excuse for his actions, having been raised in stable family environment.

And why should the defense want to want to keep this from the jury? I know that Daniel wants to protect his family’s privacy as much as possible, but it seemed like such a fuss over something apparently fairly innocuous.

Rachel Buffett was next on Murphy’s agenda. He was pretty sure that Rachel would be a much-discussed topic during the defense’s arguments (she was), and if the jury was going to have any doubts about Daniel’s level of guilt, he wanted to nip them in the bud now.

Matt admitted that there are plenty of reasons to suspect Rachel of being involved with Daniel and the crime:

• Some people don’t like her (specifically certain police officers).
• She was living with Daniel, and they were always together. So she must have known what he was doing.
• If Daniel gained financially, then so would Rachel.
• She cried onstage (during a crying scene).
• She lied to the police about seeing a third man with Sam and Daniel on the day Sam was murdered.

But then Matt Murphy went on to defend Rachel’s claims of having no involvement whatsoever:

• None of Rachel’s DNA was found on the murder weapon.
• Her DNA was not found on the backpack
• Rachel didn’t borrow any money from Chris Williams.
• She told Chris that Dan was a pathological liar and not to trust him.
• Rachel called Detective Morales and turned over evidence to him.
• She’s had steady employment at Medieval Times and hasn’t been in any trouble since the murders happened.
• During his confession, Daniel himself insisted that Rachel wasn’t involved.

I think that Matt wanted to try to cover all the bases and be ready for whatever the defense was going to say. It appeared that he wasn’t taking any chances that the jury might blame Rachel and possibly not choose death for Daniel.

Will the Orange County D.A.’s office emphasize Rachel’s good qualities when they have her on trial?

Daniel's Google search (courtesy of ABC7)
Daniel’s Google search (courtesy of ABC7)

Next, the prosecution went on to remind the jury about a few of those Google searches, including the “making sure a body isn’t found,” and “head gunshot.” Matt wasn’t allowed to talk about the search for “Sirius” (This is probably because the brightest star in the night sky, also known colloquially as the “Dog Star” isn’t likely an important issue in this case).

Then Matt summerized the testimonies of witnesses Chris Williams and Wesley “ATM kid” Frielich. The prosecution did not want the jury to forget about how emotional each of them had been on the stand. They both talked about feelings of betrayal and fear as a direct result of Daniel’s actions.

All of this was Matt’s argument proving that Daniel Wozniak doesn’t deserve to live. The jury should see he is callous, self-serving, and that friendship means nothing to him. Murphy connected Daniel to his ironically similar character Guido Contini, in the musical Nine. The jury heard that while Daniel and Rachel were singing and dancing onstage, Julie’s and Sam’s families were in a panicked search for their loved ones.

Matt Murphy went through the timeline again. He reminded the jury of Sam’s murder in the theatre attic. After that, Daniel started taking out some of Sam’s money. And to make it look like Sam was on the run, there was the plot to lure Julie to Sam’s apartment in order to kill her and frame Sam.

Matt claimed Daniel knew that Julie and Sam were good people. He was aware they both had friends and family members who loved them, but he didn’t care. As he finished his opening arguement, Murphy wanted to convey to every one in the courtroom that today was for those friends and family.

It was time for the defense’s opening arguments. Once again, Tracy LeSage took the stage.

She started by telling the jury that the defense appreciated and respected the thoughtful consideration they used during the guilt phase. She also admitted that the defense was in no way trying to excuse or justify Daniel’s actions. However, she asked that they be fair to both sides, to please keep an open mind and look deep inside themselves, and to bring justice to the process.

That was it. She didn’t really cover any more ground than she had in her closing for the guilt phase.

As far as Daniel avoiding the death penalty, well…let’s just say I wasn’t hopeful (good thing, right?).

Next up: The Prosecution’s witnesses and victim impact statements. You might want to have a box of tissues nearby.

The Death Penalty

Daniel spent a lot of time in court this past week.  I was there on Thursday to witness arguments regarding one of the biggest aspects of the case: the death penalty.

Scott Sanders (Daniel’s public defender) asked for its removal, claiming repeatedly that it is “arbitrary and capricious.” It’s a valid argument that can probably be used in most capital murder cases.

It didn’t work, though.  Judge Conley was not swayed. Daniel is still facing capital punishment if found guilty, and after five and a half years, it looks like a trial is fast approaching. Jury questionnaires are being prepared as I write this.

I found the judge’s ruling disappointing, but not surprising.

The United States is one of the only Western nations that still uses the death penalty, and if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that it’s all about retribution.  I don’t think people believe that the threat of the death penalty is actually a deterrent to crime. But knowing that the “bad guy got his” seems to make us collectively feel a little better.

I’m not saying that vengeance is a strictly American quality, but we do like it. Who doesn’t cheer during The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya finally gets to say, “You killed my father; prepare to die!”

If you’d asked me a year ago if I was “pro-death penalty,” I would have said yes. My family might accuse me of being pro-death penalty when someone cuts me off on the freeway. (Seriously?! 55 in the fast lane?!)

I guess I’ve always thought of myself as a liberal with a revenge streak.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love action movies.  Yippee-ki-yay is right!

I’m not so sure anymore.  Personally knowing someone who might end up on death row changes your outlook or at least expands it.

Recently I was listening to an episode of the Crimefeed true-crime podcast on the subject of the death penalty. The special guest was Lieutenant Joe Kenda (from one of my favorite shows, Homicide Hunter).

I love Lt. Joe.  He’s like the Chuck Norris of solving murders.  No surprise, when it comes to the death penalty, Lt. Joe is definitely “pro.”  At one point he said that a defendant should have been “terminated in the courtroom,” and it made me laugh. Then it made me sad.

I know there haven’t been any executions in California since 2006.  Even then, the average time spent on California’s Death Row is about 25 years.  California could even get rid of the death penalty in the near future. So why even bother to send Daniel Wozniak to San Quentin?

It’s a good question, right?  I’m sure the answers would vary greatly depending on whom you ask.

The Orange County District Attorney’s office requested the death penalty in this case citing various “special circumstances” surrounding the crime, including multiple murders and murder for financial gain.

There are other cases in Orange County when similar circumstances are met and the death penalty isn’t sought.

How do they decide?  I’m sure there are numerous reasons, with politics and public opinion being on the top of the list.  Some would say Daniel’s accused crimes are particularly heinous, though.  Perhaps more deserving of the ultimate punishment?

I’m not sure how the victims’ families feel on the topic.  I haven’t read anything about them specifically asking for Daniel’s death, but they clearly want justice, and that might be part of it in their eyes.  I do wonder if seeing Daniel die would help them with their grief.

When I was sitting in the courtroom, I started Googling some death penalty statistics. I found plenty of charts and graphs pointing out racial bias, class inequality (inmates call it the “prize of the poor”), wrongful convictions, and even botched executions.

Serial Killers: Who Received The Death Penalty?

I was also curious about which of the most infamous murderers of our time actually received the death penalty (or “the DP,” as Daniel writes in his letters).

For example:

  • Ted Bundy: DP, executed in Florida on January 24, 1989
  • Charles Manson: Originally received the DP, but then had his sentence commuted to life when the DP was temporarily abolished in California in 1972.
  • John Wayne Gacy: DP, executed in Illinois on May 10, 1994.
  • Aileen Wuornos: DP, executed in Florida on October 9, 2002.
  • Richard Ramirez: Received the DP, but died from cancer on California’s death row on June 7, 2013.
  • Jeffrey Dahmer: Sentenced to life in prison in Wisconsin, he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate on November 28, 1994. (After, his mother was quoted saying,  “Now, is everybody happy?”)
  • David Berkowitz aka The Son of Sam: Sentenced to life in New York (he’s still alive).
  • Dennis Rader aka BTK: Sentenced to life in prison in Kansas (still alive).

When you look at who does or doesn’t receive the death penalty, it’s difficult to debate Scott when he calls it “arbitrary and capricious.”

If someone asked me today if I am pro-death penalty, I would probably say no. But I haven’t experienced the murder of a loved one.  If that happened, I might want some “eye for an eye” revenge.

What I Want to Know About Daniel Wozniak

I asked Daniel a lot of questions in my early letters.   I was super curious about his day to day living.
I’d stick to asking basic stuff.  Our correspondences are obviously not private and he still hasn’t had a trial, so what is the point in asking questions he can’t answer?
I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about me “interviewing” him, but clearly, that is what I was doing.

My Questions To Daniel

Here’s what I wrote to him in September (I also mentioned that I hope he has plenty of that yellow legal pad paper):
  • Did you study art at all?  I loved the card you made me and I was ridiculously impressed by your skill.  I’m limited to stick figures myself, ha ha.
  • What does your cell look like?  Do you always have a “celly?” (Yeah that’s right. I’m learning the lingo).
  • I’m reading the biography of Damien Echols (West Memphis Three) right now.  One thing that struck me was his feelings of anger and hatred toward the guards.  He says “it’s the guards and not the other prisoners that make being incarcerated so much harder…”  So, your take on this?
  • This might sound silly, but have you considered starting some kind of theatre group behind bars? Performance therapy?  You might be laughing at my prison naivety right now.   Maybe you could entertain the masses with Shakespearean monologues??
  • Do you have a lot of family and friends supporting you through the trial?  I’d be interested in attending it.  I want to know the “more to what happened” because I’ve always believed there had to be…
  • So why were you reconnecting with your parents?  Was it your drug use that caused a rift between you?
  • Do you think she (his now ex-fiancee) ended your relationship out of anger or fear because of the charges she’s facing herself?   Did you have a big wedding planned?
  • OK, here’s a big question.  I’m not sure if you can even answer this one.  You seem like it bothers you that people would believe you were motivated by money… You don’t want people to think you had major financial troubles. The thing is, Daniel, to me it seems like society would consider it a lesser evil to believe that a person might do certain things when facing a desperate financial situation.  If you didn’t have money problems then what would you want people to believe motivated you?
  • Is your lawyer a public defender?
  • You said you were visited a couple times by one of  your victims’ dads.  HE had written in his letter  “one of my victims,” so I was just going with his terminology. Which dad? Has he explained his  motivation for wanting to visit you?
  • Was “Lost” actually your favorite TV show?  I’d read that somewhere.  I was a huge fan of “Lost.”
  • I have to ask you how you are handling the possibility of getting the death penalty.  Are you afraid of this?

Answers For Daniel

The rest of my letter was answering his questions about me.  I called it a fair exchange of information.
  • No, I don’t consider myself to be a religious person.
  • I was adopted as a baby and my adopted mother is an undiagnosed bi-polar, self-proclaimed born-again Christian.  Years of her craziness has left me with a bad taste in my mouth for organized religions.  (I told Daniel that for simplification, I could be considered an Agnostic who leans toward spirituality.)
  • I told him about my adopted dad — who passed away 8 years ago — and that I loved him tremendously in spite of his unchecked alcoholism.
  • I shared that I now have good relationships with both my biological parents (I just found my biological father last year).
  • That I was reading the second Game of Thrones book (I didn’t want him to think that when it comes to reading materials, I’m all crime all the time).
Oh, and I also included a copy of a good review he got when he was acting in the play “Nine” (his last performance before the arrest).
I finished my letter by asking if I could maybe visit him at some point…I signed the letter with “your friend,” and I meant it.

My New Friend is in Jail

January 2015

(Post One)

I have a new friend.

Actually I met him for the first time in 2010, but he really only became my actual friend until a few months ago when I first wrote him a letter.

He is in jail.

He’s “awaiting trial.”  He’s been waiting a long time, too – 4 years and 7 months so far.  That is a longer-than-usual time to wait for your trial.  It’s especially a long time if you sit inside a cell 22 hours day.   My friend is being charged with “special circumstances,” so he can’t get bail, and the prosecutor is asking for the death penalty.

Let’s start by saying that I am NOT going to use my friend’s name in this blog; at least not at this point.

Obviously, anyone could Google what I’m going to tell you about the case.  You could find out my friend’s name and all about his alleged crime.  I’m not trying to hide anything, but I watch a lot of TV, and I figure if I don’t say his name, then nothing I write can be used against him in a court of law.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

I’m going to call him Pat.  My friend Pat, who is in jail.

When I first met Pat back in 2010, he was acting in a play at my theatre.  I’m calling it my theatre because I was one of the people who helped with the day-to-day running of the place.  I was a company member and a director.

Pat was just around for one show.  Even though he was the lead actor in a musical running at the theatre, it was Pat’s first time acting there.

The show was doing well and it was making money. That was all that mattered to me.

So, even though Pat was just a visitor, I liked him.  I didn’t think he was the greatest actor in the world, but he was doing a good job in the show and audiences responded well to him.

I started eyeing him for my summer musical.  He seemed like a nice guy.  He was good-looking and personable.  He was funny and polite.  He was even engaged to one of the actresses in the show,  and they were getting married the next week!  He seemed like he had his life pretty organized (at least organized enough for an actor in community theatre).

I chatted up Pat when I was house managing for his show one night.

This theatre was really small.  There were a lot of people in Pat’s show, and he ended up having to use the theatre’s office for his dressing room (he was the only man in the show).    I was selling tickets and snacks from the front of the office, while Pat was hanging out “back stage” in the back of the office.

A makeshift curtain hid him from the audience. He made me laugh, because every time someone would order a soda, Pat would hand it to me through the curtain.

A few days after the show ended, Pat was arrested.

He was at a restaurant having an impromptu bachelor party with some of his buddies.  The Sheriffs swarmed in and arrested him just as he’d finished paying the check (a fact that annoys him a bit).