Daniel Wozniak’s Fiancée Appears In Court

On Friday, January 27th, Rachel Buffett appeared at the Orange County Superior Courthouse for a pre-trial motion. I decided to go to court that day to see if there is anything new or interesting happening with her case.

If you’re just joining the blog, let me give you a little back-story.

Rachel Buffett’s Involvement

Rachel Mae Buffett is the former fiancée of convicted killer Daniel Wozniak. Daniel is sitting on death row in San Quentin for the murders of two college students, Samuel Herr and Julie “Juri” Kibuishi, which took place in May 2010.

Daniel Wozniak confessed to both murders. He admitted to murdering Sam Herr in order to clean out Herr’s bank account. In his confession, Daniel Wozniak also stated that he used Sam Herr’s cell phone and pretended to be Sam Herr while texting with Herr’s friend, Julie Kibuishi. The purpose was to lure Julie Kibuishi to Sam Herr’s apartment to murder her as well. Daniel Wozniak claimed he killed Kibuishi with the purpose of framing Sam Herr for her murder.

It was a complicated and horrifying scheme, made even more disturbing by Daniel Wozniak’s decapitation of Sam Herr’s body, and later setting a scene to make it look as though Sam Herr had sexually assaulted Julie Kibuishi before murdering her.

Daniel Wozniak confessed to doing all these terrible things alone, and he never officially implicated anyone else in the crimes.

Stories Changing

Rachel Buffett and Daniel Wozniak were scheduled to get married the following week, and the two of them were almost always together. Yet Rachel went along with Daniel’s assertion that she had no previous knowledge or involvement with either murder.

In fact, it was Rachel who handed important evidence over to the police. She appeared to be another victim of this crime: a woman whose life had just been overturned because the man she loved had confessed to being a murderer.

However, the police had a lot of questions for Rachel Buffett, and they weren’t necessarily satisfied with her answers.

Early in the investigation, Rachel echoed Daniel Wozniak’s story by telling the police there was an unknown third man with Sam Herr and Daniel Wozniak on the day Sam was murdered.

After Daniel admitted to making up the third man in order to throw the police off his trail, Rachel claimed she had never actually seen a third man. She was only reiterating what Daniel had told her because she took it for granted what he’d told her was true.

But it seemed to the police Rachel was helping Daniel lie to them. There were also suspicions that Rachel knew Daniel was texting Julie Kibuishi with Sam Herr’s phone. Rachel and Daniel both told the authorities Rachel was asleep in their apartment when he slipped out to murder Julie. Yet there was a record of Rachel on Facebook at that time… actually sending a casual message to Julie Kibuishi.

And there were witnesses from the theatre who said Rachel was heard mentioning a missing or possibly murdered “friend” before Julie’s body was even found.

Rachel Buffett Charged

In November 2012, the Orange County District Attorney charged Rachel Buffett with three felony counts of being an accessory to double homicide. She spent three weeks in jail (including Thanksgiving), and was eventually released on a $100,000.00 bail.

The maximum time she could face is three years and eight months. It is my understanding that Rachel Buffett turned down an opportunity to arrange a plea bargain with the Orange County District Attorney, or to testify against Daniel Wozniak. Rachel has stated that she is completely innocent of anything related to the murders of Sam or Julie.

Rachel Back in Court

Daniel Wozniak’s trial was held on the eighth floor of the Superior courthouse, but Rachel appeared in a much smaller courtroom on the second floor. I knew I had found the right place when I saw Sam Herr’s parents, Steve and Raquel Herr, standing outside in the hallway.

This wasn’t a surprise at all. I expected to see them. Sam’s parents attended every one of Daniel Wozniak’s hearings and never missed a day of his trial. When Steve Herr and Rachel Buffett both appeared on Dr. Phil in 2013, Steve Herr didn’t hide his disdain for Rachel and her claims of ignorance about the murders of his son Sam and Julie Kibuishi.

Courtroom C49 was semi-crowded because there were several different cases being seen there that morning. A large, caged holding area was on the left side of the courtroom, and occasionally prisoners were brought inside it for hearings.

Rachel’s trial was scheduled to begin at nine, but her case wasn’t called until around ten thirty. I ended up sitting in the front row next to a reporter I’d seen many times during Daniel’s trial, and we chatted casually when court wasn’t in session.

Rachel Buffett and a suited man, who I figured was her lawyer, entered the busy courtroom and had a brief whispered conversation.  I couldn’t hear any of it over the din of the voices in the courtroom. Then, Rachel sat down on the other side of the reporter in the front row, and the two of us instinctively stopped chatting.

Rachel wore a black blazer with matching slacks and cream colored character shoes (wide-heeled shoes that actresses often wear onstage). Her long blond hair was in a neat braid that fell over her right shoulder. She didn’t seem to notice me or the reporter.

It was hard to get a read on Rachel. She didn’t necessarily look worried, but I felt like she was nervous. It’s possible I just assumed she was nervous, because who wouldn’t be in her situation? I glanced around to see if she had any family with her. I don’t know what they look like, but I knew to look for blonde. It was a blonde free zone at that moment. A surprise in California.

Rachel sat there, using her phone for a couple of minutes, and then got up and hurriedly left the courtroom. A moment later, the reporter left as well, and I was worried I’d missed something. Maybe the reporter overheard the conversation and learned that Rachel Buffett’s trial would be postponed again? That ended up being the case.

Before I could decide to leave, Rachel walked back into the courtroom. This time she was accompanied by a young blonde man. I was guessing this was her brother, Noah. So, she wasn’t there alone.

Now there were two empty seats next to me in the front row. Rachel directed “possible Noah” toward the seats. He was about to sit in the aisle seat (which meant Rachel would have to scooch by him to sit down… next to me), when Rachel gestured for him to move to the second seat in. He sat next to me and Rachel sat on the aisle again.

I honestly don’t know if Rachel has any idea who I am. I’m not positive I ever even spoke to her at the Hunger Artists theatre company, and I don’t know if she reads this blog.

I didn’t try to talk to her at all, which later surprised Daniel. If Rachel reads the blog, then she figured out who I am. The hair color and tattoos are a dead give-away. But I’d had no plans to go all “reporter” on her at that time.

Of course, I would love to interview Rachel, but I wasn’t about to lean over “possible Noah” and ask her if she’s telling the truth about her involvement in the murders of Sam or Julie.  If Rachel reads my blog, she knows I don’t believe her story. I don’t think she is an innocent victim.

Obviously, I’m not the only one, or she wouldn’t have been in court that day.

Within ten minutes, Rachel Buffett’s case was called and she stepped up to a nearby podium to hear that her trial was postponed until March 17th. Ironically, Daniel considers St. Patrick’s Day to be the anniversary of the beginning of his and Rachel’s romantic relationship.  I plan to be there again, unless there’s some kind of plea arrangement before that. But I don’t see that happening.

Next Up On the Blog

My first trip to visit San Quentin.

Penalty Phase: The Defense’s Closing Argument

“He will die in custody,” stated defense attorney Scott Sanders during his closing statement in the penalty phase of Daniel Wozniak’s trial. “He deserves the strongest punishment.”

Did I mention that this was the defense?

Here’s the thing: I’m sure Sanders wanted the jury to know they didn’t need to recommend the death penalty. Daniel wasn’t going anywhere and he wouldn’t be a danger to society.

Daniel had no criminal past, and before this he’d never been convicted of a violent crime. Daniel has been a model prisoner during his incarceration. So do these terrible acts represent Daniel as a person, or did he take a horrible detour?

Scott Sanders was very clear. He was not trying to diminish what Daniel did or the suffering he caused to all the people who loved Sam and Julie.

But he did want the jury members to make decisions for themselves and ask “what happened” to Daniel.

Also, Scott Sanders wanted to answer that question: Rachel Buffett happened to Daniel Wozniak.

The Rachel Buffett Question

Is Rachel an integral part of this story? No doubt about it. But is she a reason to commit murder?

When I tell someone about my blog and explain the details of the crime, I end the explanation by saying that, according to the prosecution, all of this happened because Daniel and Rachel were getting married, and he needed to pay for the wedding.

I don’t believe the money motive. You guys know that. But it’s the only one the prosecution gave us.  Technically, that means no wedding equals no murders, right?

Furthermore, Rachel wasn’t just Daniel’s unwitting fiancée, asserted Scott Sanders, she was cruel, conniving and crafty. Sanders wanted the jury to view Rachel as the catalyst. He reminded them of the details about Rachel that came out during the trial:

  • Rachel had a history of causing conflict. She would stir up problems with those around her just for the “thrill of it.”
  • The police do not believe Daniel’s claim that Rachel had no knowledge of the murders.
  • Rachel didn’t tell the police about Chris Williams and how he had loaned them money.
  • Rachel knew there were no “loan sharks,” and that Daniel wasn’t in any danger if he didn’t pay back the money.
  • When questioned by the police, Rachel claimed to still be in fear of loan sharks.
  • Rachel lied to the police about seeing a third man with Daniel and Sam on the day Sam was murdered.
  • Police have testified that they believe Rachel was directly involved in the murders.

Yes, we’d heard all that before, but Scott Sanders did make a couple of new points I found interesting.

The Text Messages Question

First, he talked about those texts sent from Sam’s cell phone to Julie. Sanders scrolled through the texts for the jury and pointed out how their tone and wording changed dramatically as soon as Daniel was home with Rachel. When Daniel was alone, the texts were joking and casual.  He suggested that their only purpose was to make it seem as though Sam was still alive. But when Daniel got home to Rachel, suddenly the texts were about asking Julie to come over. They became serious and emotional.

Interesting point. I hadn’t noticed that before. It sounds like Sanders was saying that Rachel came up with the plan to murder Julie.

The Calendar Question

Scott Sanders also talked about a “calendar problem” with Rachel’s account of the crime:

  • On May 26th,2010 she lied to the police about seeing a third man with Sam and Daniel on the day Sam was killed. Ostensibly this was to help Daniel with his alibi.
  • But on May 27th, Rachel was brought into the police station to hear Daniel’s confession. This was supposedly the first she learned about the murders at all.

Why would she be lying for Daniel if she didn’t yet know Sam was dead?

The Confession Question

Rachel also told the police she was afraid loan sharks, but she knew there were no loan sharks because Chris Williams had told her.  During that confession, Rachel hadn’t seemed shocked or upset, even though she was learning that her fiancé had just confessed to double homicide.

Side note: Scott’s impersonation of Rachel during the confession was hilarious. Here was this super-serious attorney guy trying to sound like… umm… a vapid Barbie doll?

Was Daniel Manipulated?

Scott Sanders wanted the jury to get a different image of Daniel Wozniak. He wasn’t the monster described by the prosecution. Daniel was manipulated.

Rachel was Daniel’s entire life and he would do anything for her. Daniel was going to protect Rachel, and Rachel was going to protect Rachel. So Daniel took the blame for everything.

Daniel had asked that Rachel be brought in to hear his confession so she’d know the story she should stick to. Daniel even made himself look as horrible as possible (claiming that hiding the murders was “borderline fun”), so they would focus on him entirely.

Sanders was telling the jury Rachel is smarter than Daniel, because she didn’t get caught, and she made sure the police would have evidence against Daniel.

Rachel just “walks through the rain drops,” Sanders announced to the jury.

Does Daniel Deserve To Die?

It seemed like Scott Sanders was saying that Daniel Wozniak shouldn’t be given the death penalty because there is good inside him. The murders of Sam and Julie are inexcusable, but Daniel could still be a useful member of society (well… ok… prison society).

Scott Sanders doesn’t think Daniel is the worst of the worst. He reminded the jury about Edward Munoz, who in-spite of having a criminal past, was telling the truth about who Daniel is behind bars. “To me,” Munoz had told the jury when he was on the stand, “he is a good person.”

Scott Sanders spoke plainly: Daniel Wozniak “will never make it up to the families, but don’t we want him to do his best now?”

One Last Push From Prosecutor Matt Murphy

By the way, during Scott Sanders’ entire closing, Matt Murphy still didn’t give up on the “one/one” argument. He was determined to get another opportunity to speak after Sanders’ closing. There was discussion that the jury might have problems recalling the details of the prosecution’s closing.

Scott Sanders did not stop fighting to have the judge stick to his decision to end the trial with the defense’s closing. He pointed out that the prosecution’s opening argument was longer than the defense’s entire case.

Judge Conley continued to reluctantly side in favor of Sanders, but before he could give the final jury instructions, he would see council in his chambers one more time.  Matt Murphy looked pissed when they came back out, and I knew that one “one/one” fight was done.

Finally! That just got annoying, Matt. I’d admire your tenaciousness, but jeez, it was enough already. Trust me – you talked plenty.

The Jury Deliberates

The judge told the jury they needed to have a unanimous decision in order to give Daniel the death penalty.  So, Mike the bailiff escorted them into the deliberation room, and those of us in the courtroom readied ourselves for a long wait.

They were back in less than an hour.

Next…

In the next post, I will tell you what it’s like to watch a jury recommend that your friend be put to death.

Penalty Phase: The Prosecution’s Closing Argument Part Two

District Attorney Matt Murphy was half-way through his closing argument in the penalty phase of Daniel Wozniak’s trial. He had thoroughly pondered, then criticized, what he hoped would be Scott Sanders’ defense. He’d written off the testimonies of defense witnesses, negated Rachel Buffett’s importance in the murders and reviewed the prosecution’s case against Daniel in his effort to remind the jury why Daniel should be put to death.

One of Murphy’s prime points: So many people were hurt by the murders of Sam and Julie. Lives were changed forever.

Many Different Kinds of Victims

Murphy brought up Wesley Frielich, the young man Daniel persuaded to take money out of Sam’s account using his ATM card. Wesley didn’t actually testify during the penalty phase of Daniel’s trial, but the prosecution didn’t want the jury to forget about this young and impressionable kid who had his life changed because he trusted Daniel Wozniak.  Wesley went from having no criminal record to having the FBI handcuff him on his front lawn.

Next, Murphy wanted to talk about Sam’s friend Lester James McKinney, and how he and Sam had been friends since they were teens.

A Challenge From Scott Sanders

That’s when Scott Sanders asked Judge Conley for a sidebar.

I heard a few scoffs from members of Sam and Julie’s families who appeared annoyed at Sanders for delaying matters.  People looked at each other with confused expressions. Was Scott Sanders actually objecting to a victim impact statement from one of Sam’s closest friends? No. The problem here for Sanders was the portrayal of Sam Herr as a loyal and trustworthy friend.

Just as Matt Murphy’s sticking point was not getting to speak last in the penalty phase, Scott Sanders had his own issue he wouldn’t let go.  He was still determined to have the jury hear about Sam’s past with his own murder trial.

Sanders didn’t think it was acceptable to paint teenage Sam as a good guy. He wanted to call witnesses who would talk about Sam lying to a close friend and leading that man to his death. Judge Conley explained that Lester McKinney would only be describing how he himself “saw Sam,” so there was no need for the jury to hear any witnesses that would contradict that image.

Matt Murphy then tried to remind the jury about Chris Williams and how emotionally scarring it was for him to be involved in this case. Scott Sanders objected to Williams’ victim impact being referenced since Williams didn’t actually testify during the penalty phase (neither did Wesley, actually). But Sam’s friend Miles Foltz, who had testified, got to tell the jury that Sam was everyone’s best friend.

Then there was Julie Kibuishi, who Matt Murphy called, “the victim who did not have to die.”

(Sorry to be nitpicky, but obviously neither or these victims had to die.)

Murphy added that Julie was a daughter, sister, dancer and friend, but Daniel Wozniak only saw her as a decoy. He lured Julie to her death on the same night he sang and danced on stage.

The demonized image of Daniel Wozniak was the last one Murphy wanted the jury to remember.  The Daniel who described Julie as the “God dammed body” at one point, and who planned this intricate plot to rob and murder, was a cold-blooded killer and betrayer of friends.

Matt Murphy ended his closing and hoped he’d covered all the bases. Was there anything Scott Sanders would bring up that Murphy hadn’t effectively already shut down? In the next couple of posts, I’ll be giving you the details of Scott Sander’s closing argument. Will he be able to sway the jury to choose life in prison instead of death?

Spoiler alert: No.

But he sure did put in a valiant effort.

Coming Soon…

I’m almost finished with the detailed trial coverage. My apologies to anyone who doesn’t find the minutiae of the case as interesting as I do, but I’m betting some of you are fellow trial junkies who binge watched The Making of a Murderer, too.

Why So Much Detail on the Trial?

And maybe, it feels “safe” to focus so much on the trial specifics. I was genuinely surprised by the large quantity, and the severity, of negative comments I received on social media just because I’m friends with Daniel.

Sometimes I’m a little nervous about putting too much of myself in my writing. After all, people can’t hold it against me if I’m just re-telling what happened in the courtroom, right? Also, if I post everything I’m thinking in the blog, what will be left to put in a book?

An Orange County Judicial Scandal Could Prompt More Delays

Last week, Daniel’s sentencing was postponed for the second time.  A new date will be set in June. This happened because the Orange County snitch scandal has been heating up again.

Through a completely separate case, another lawyer came across some informant notes that had Daniel’s name all over them. The DA’s office claims they didn’t even know about the existence of these notes.

(So, why would the OC Sherrif’s Office even collect informant notes if they aren’t for the District Attorney to aid in prosecution?)

Daniel and Scott Sanders have been in court all week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be, but Daniel has been taking lots of notes for me, and The LA Times and The OC Register have been doing thorough coverage of the story.

The informant scandal has nothing specific to do with the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi, but it could have a big influence on how Daniel’s case plays out.  Other murder cases are going back to trial because of evidence hidden from defense attorneys.

On Friday, Sam’s dad and Julie’s mom spoke in court.  They asked that there be no more delays in sentencing Daniel.

I can’t help wondering: Would this case have been over long ago if the people in charge had just followed the law? Would the families have justice by now? As is, do you think they are worried that all this deception could lead to a re-trial for Daniel?

Because it could.

Penalty Phase: Detective Jose Morales

When I learned Detective Jose Morales would be the last witness called by Daniel’s defense team, I was particularly curious to find out how one of the lead detectives against Daniel was now supposedly going to help him.

I knew we weren’t going to get some kind of bombshell moment. Things like that happen during the guilt phase of a trial, and I didn’t expect Det. Morales to say anything that would call Daniel’s guilt into question. At this point, Scott Sanders was just trying to save Daniel Wozniak’s life.

During the guilt phase of the trial, Lead Detective Lt. Ed Everett made it abundantly clear he believes Daniel’s former fiancée, Rachel Buffett, should be facing the same murder charges as Daniel.

However, during Det. Morales’ time on the stand, Scott Sander’s didn’t ask any questions about Rachel during his cross-examination.

Still, I was anticipating a, “hey look over there at Rachel Buffett” approach now that we were in the penalty phase.

I was right.  First thing out of the gate was a question about Rachel’s own police interview.  Det. Morales was asked if he’d been part of Rachel’s questioning.  He had.

Rachel, Rachel, Rachel…

In fact, Detective Morales interviewed Rachel many times between 2010 – 2012.  I got the impression that he doesn’t have the same access to Rachel now.  Maybe a lawyer put the kibosh on her talking to the police?

…On When She Found Out About Julie

During questioning, Rachel had been repeatedly asked when she had found out about Julie’s murder. She always claimed to have learned about Julie death when everyone else did: after Steve Herr found her body in Sam’s apartment on May 22.

But Detective Morales confronted Rachel with the fact that there had been people at the theatre who’d heard Rachel speak about Julie’s murder earlier on that weekend.

…On What She Knew About Daniel’s Money Problems

During his testimony, Det. Morales revealed that Rachel lied to the police about her knowledge of Daniel’s money issues. She’d claimed not to know who’d loaned Daniel money.  She thought he’d borrowed from a loan shark and that Daniel was afraid of “having his legs broken” if he didn’t pay it back.

Scott Sanders led Det. Morales to tell the jury that he’d confronted Rachel. He knew it was Chris Williams who loaned money to Daniel, and he knew she knew. Why did Rachel not tell the police about Chris Williams loaning money to Daniel? Early in the investigation, Rachel stuck to the story that some “bad people” were involved in loaning Daniel money and Rachel was afraid of them.

In a 2012 interview, Rachel told the police that she’d kept Chris Williams’ identity a secret in order to protect his name.  But during Williams own testimony, he told the jury that Rachel knew there were no loan sharks.  So why had Rachel lied to the police about having a fear of them?

Scott Sanders questioned Det. Morales about Chris Williams’ cell phone movements on the day of Sam’s murder.  Williams left Rachel and Daniel’s apartment soon after Daniel, having just murdered Sam, arrived home that day. The jury was reminded that Rachel called Chris Williams not long after he left the apartment, and she was very upset, but didn’t say why.

…On Internet Use

Next, Det. Morales was questioned about the timing of internet activity at Daniel and Rachel’s apartment that day. I think the purpose of this was to show that Rachel was online when Daniel wasn’t home.

Scott Sanders didn’t link this to any of the incriminating searches that were used as evidence during the guilt phase. So why is it important that she was on the computer when Daniel wasn’t home? Oh, and by the way, the reason the police know Daniel wasn’t home: because that was when Sam was being murdered.

More Red Flags

Detective Morales had other suspicions about Rachel:

  • Rachel originally said she didn’t know what time she went to bed on the night of Julie’s murder. But later, she gave an exact time.
  • Rachel signed on to Daniel’s Facebook account during the weekend of the murders. He didn’t seem to believe her when she said this was common for her to do.
  • Rachel claimed she didn’t notice Daniel using a flip phone to send texts to Julie on the night she was murdered, even though Daniel owned a smart phone.
  • Some of those texts were “eerily similar” to statements Rachel made to the police during interviews.

Why All The Attention On Rachel Buffett?

So what was the point of all this, and did we learn anything new? At one point it was mentioned Daniel had made three calls to Rachel from jail (only one was played for the jury). I don’t think I knew that before, but I don’t know if it’s important, either.

I think Scott Sanders was trying to remind the jury that the police have doubts about Rachel. What did she know and when did she know it? Did she help cover up Sam’s murder? Was she directly involved in Julie’s murder?

And was any of it going to make a difference in determining Daniel’s fate?

When it was Matt Murphy’s turn to cross-examine Detective Morales, it felt like Murphy was giving Morales the opportunity to finish his sentences… as though Scott Sanders had been cutting him off.

I liked that little twist where a prosecution witness was now being cross-examined by the prosecutor – even if it did feel like they were still on the same side.

Murphy wanted to clear up any question the jury might have about the charges against Rachel Buffett. She is accused of lying to the police and being a murder accessory after the fact. Murphy asked Morales if he had anything to indicate that Rachel was involved with the planning of either murder. The answer was no.

Det. Morales was questioned about some of Daniel and Rachel’s computer searches. But they weren’t incriminating, so I’m not sure of the point of bringing them up.  They were all seemingly related to wedding and honeymoon planning: party rentals, cruise ship information, and Sandals Resort in Mexico. The searches were all done on Daniel’s laptop, not on the shared desktop.

That sounds like Daniel was doing a lot of the planning, but on Dateline, Rachel said he wasn’t interested or involved with the wedding plans.  I think either she or Josh Mankiewicz referred to him as a “typical guy.”

Detective Morales admitted that he doesn’t buy Daniel’s confession story, but pointed out that Daniel has always maintained that Rachel had nothing to do with the murders of Sam and Julie.

Det. Morales personally believes that Daniel told Rachel about the murder of Sam and the two of them planned to cover up Sam’s murder by killing Julie.  His theory is that Rachel had knowledge but she did not participate.

Matt Murphy was quick to point out that no matter what Det. Morales believed, there’s no proof that Rachel did anything but “echo Daniel’s lies.”

That was the end of it.  There would be no more witnesses and the jury was told to report the following Tuesday at 9 AM to hear the closing arguments.

In the next post: the beginning of Matt Murphy’s closing arguments. Matt and Scott Sanders each spoke for about six hours.  I have lots of notes.

Penalty Phase: The Defense Witnesses

In the last post, we started day two of the penalty phase and saw the last of the prosecution witnesses. We left off with the moving testimony of June Kibuishi, the mother of murder victim Julie. When June’s testimony was finished, the jury was allowed to take a break.

When the jury was brought back into the courtroom, it was time for the very first defense witness of the entire trial.

Krystin Bergamasco

It didn’t take long to realize that the defense wanted to show the jury that maybe Daniel Wozniak wasn’t a cold, calculating mastermind who committed double murder on his own.

Since the guilt portion of the trial was long over, Scott wasn’t trying to convince anyone that his client was innocent.

But if the DA didn’t have the true story, and if Daniel didn’t do everything he was accused of doing, did he deserve the death penalty?  If Daniel Wozniak was influenced, cajoled, and, most importantly, assisted, then maybe he didn’t cook up this premeditated and confusing scheme to commit murder for money.

Two innocent people were dead, and Scott was not denying Daniel’s involvement in their murders. But now the defense was going to point a finger in another direction: directly at Daniel’s fiancée at the time, Rachel Buffett.

If the jury was going to believe that Rachel could be directly involved in the murders, then the defense had to paint her as both dangerous and manipulative. Enter, stage left: Rachel’s friend and fellow thespian, Krystin.

Around 2006, Krystin and Rachel were both students at Long Beach City College when they were cast in the play Antigone.  When asked if Rachel was well liked, Krystin said no, and that everyone actually avoided Rachel whenever possible.  She described Rachel as “very narcissistic, cold, calculating,” and willing to “do anything to get what she wants.”

Krystin Bergamasco told of an incident where Rachel set up a situation to embarrass another acquaintance just for fun.

Rachel was dating a guy named Kyle Ruebel (we’ll hear from him later).  Another actress in their theatre community was unaware of the relationship between Kyle and Rachel. Unfortunately, she confided in Rachel that she had a crush on Kyle.  According to Krystin’s story, Rachel convinced the other girl to admit her feelings to Kyle. The young woman was humiliated when Kyle admitted to already being in a relationship with Rachel.

Why would Rachel do this? Because she “loved the attention,” explained Krystin.

This might all seem a little “high school mean girl,” but Scott wanted the jury to see that Rachel had a history of spinning webs and being cruel just for sport. And when Krystin told of a conversation between the two of them while headed to Starbucks one day, it made sense why she felt the need to talk to the Costa Mesa Police about Rachel after she learned of the murders of Sam and Julie.

Rachel and Krystin had been talking about auditions for an upcoming production of the Greek tragedy Media.  While discussing two of the central themes of the play, revenge and murder, Rachel asked Krystin a rather odd question.

She wanted to know, “if you could murder someone, and you knew you could get away with it, would you?”  Krystin replied that she would definitely not murder someone.

You guys already know where this is going, right?

Rachel, however, said she would murder someone if she could get away with it, and Krystin believed that her friend was not kidding around.

This event stayed with with Krystin, and after she found out about the murders, she sat down and wrote four pages of notes (to “keep herself organized”) and headed to the police station to let them know they should be looking carefully at Rachel Buffett.

So, not only was Krystin Bergamasco the first defense witness, she was also the first witness to be cross-examined by Matt Murphy.  He didn’t spend much time questioning her.  He asked if she had any hard evidence to prove that Rachel was involved in the murders.  She said no.  That seemed sufficient for Matt to make his point that proving Rachel is mean isn’t quite the same as having DNA evidence or fingerprints.

Side note: So far, I have yet to speak with a theatre person who liked Rachel.  All the people I’ve met who worked with her describe her the same way Krystin did.  But hey, if anyone reading this knows her personally and actually likes her, I would be very interested in hearing about a different side of Rachel. 

Kyle Ruebel

The next defense witness was Rachel’s boyfriend in 2008 / 2009.

With the previous witness, Scott Sanders painted Rachel as a callous narcissist. Now, it was time to show her manipulative, law-breaking side.

Kyle talked about how he often witnessed Rachel stealing from stores at Disneyland (where she and Kyle worked) and how she would convince her younger cousin, Rebecca, to steal with her.  Rachel would defend her actions with the explanation, “they don’t care. It’s a million dollar business.”

Ummm, more like billions, but that doesn’t make it right, Rachel.

Scott Sanders asked Kyle how he felt about Rachel’s stealing.  He said it rubbed him the wrong way, but he’s a passive guy, so he didn’t say anything.

During his cross-examination, Matt Murphy wanted to know if Rachel had ever tried to convince Kyle to break the law.  He said not really, and he pointed out that “you make your own decisions,” and it doesn’t matter if your girlfriend tries to talk you into doing something.

Matt also asked Kyle if being immature, “makes you a criminal mastermind.”

Good one, Matt.  I’m not sure what makes Kyle an expert on this topic, but I’m guessing it was more of a rhetorical question.

Then back to Scott. Why did Rachel and Kyle break up? He said she was manipulative and she caused problems with his friends. She also bragged to him about having sex with another man because she was trying to “egg (him) on” to get into a fight over her (it didn’t work).

I think Matt Murphy got in the last word, though. He asked if these Rachel stories had anything to do with Daniel Wozniak. Kyle said nope, and that was it.

So, did Scott Sanders make his point with these two witnesses?  And what was his point?

Neither of these witnesses said anything that would cause the jury to doubt Daniel’s guilt, but this wasn’t the guilt phase. Maybe throwing a little shade Rachel’s way might cause them to wonder if she had some influence over Daniel’s actions?  That wouldn’t make him innocent, but perhaps they could see him as “life without the possibility of parole” guilty.

Side note – at no point in this trial did the prosecution put forth anyone from Daniel’s pre-Rachel past who had anything bad to say about pre-Rachel Daniel.  

We have two more defense witnesses, and closing arguments, coming up in future posts.

Guilty – Part Five

And continued…

Some time has passed since I began writing the play by play of the trial. We all know how it ends, but people reading this are probably keen to learn all the details. That’s how I am. That’s why I went to the trial in the first place.

The “character” Murderer Musings TV Lawyer (MMTVL) is more from the point of view of an analytical  jury member asking the questions one might want answered if given the task of deciding a death penalty case.

People are curious about the specifics. I’ve had friends ask me about my opinion on the defense put on by Scott Sanders. I’ll give you more of my thoughts on that when we get to the penalty phase of Daniel’s trial.

More Witnesses For The Prosecution: Anthony Celeste, Continued

In “Guilty Part Four,” we left off right after the lunch break on December 14, 2015, and Anthony Celeste was on the stand.

Anthony filmed each and every performance of the production of Nine, the play Daniel and Rachel were performing in on the days of the murders. Anthony was very familiar with the play.

Matt Murphy played the opening scene from each of the shows to see if there were any variations in the performances from night to night.  Murphy pointed out that Daniel did a great job onstage and there was no difference in performances even though he had just committed two cold-blooded murders.

But during cross-examination, Anthony Celeste said Daniel’s performance was “off” on the night of Friday, May 21st. Anthony described him as sweating profusely, looking flush, and missing cues. The audience that night probably didn’t notice, but Anthony saw the show every night, and normally Daniel was “spot on.”

Anthony also answered questions about Rachel Buffett’s performance that night.  He noted that, unlike her other performances, Rachel shed actual tears during her crying scene that night..  It wasn’t like her to be able to cry on cue.

MMTVL doesn’t really have any questions, but I want to say that Anthony Celeste did fine work filming the show.  It looked great. And the stuff about crying on cue was pretty funny, but in Rachel’s defense, it is not easy to do that.

Witness Michael Anthony Cohen

Michael Cohen was one of the Costa Mesa Police Department officers who interviewed Daniel and eventually took his confession. It was during Cohen’s testimony that Matt Murphy showed the jury segments of the video of Daniel’s interrogation.

The Interrogation Video

The time stamp on the video showed that this was an edited version of the questioning.  Who knows what was left out or why? But we saw Daniel change his story repeatedly before he gave his confession… and don’t think the detectives didn’t notice the discrepancies.

Some of you may have seen snippets of the video on the Dateline episode. Just so you know, I have made fun of him repeatedly for the Tommy Bahama shirt he wore. He was arrested at his bachelor party.  I feel like this wasn’t a classy event.

The police brought Daniel in because they connected him to Sam Herr’s ATM card  through Wesley.  They are searching for Sam at this point: They still think he murdered Julie and is on the run. They even thought they might find Sam at the bachelor party.

Early on, Daniel owned up to being involved with Sam in a plan to defraud Sam’s bank.  Sam gave Daniel his ATM card and PIN. Daniel would arrange for money to be taken out of Sam’s account.  Sam would claim that he didn’t take the money out, and the bank would replace the “stolen” money.  That was it.  Daniel didn’t know where to find Sam.  He didn’t know anything about Julie’s murder.

Story changes…

He admitted that he lied to the police (that happens a lot on the video). He knew more than he originally told them. Sam had come to Daniel and Rachel’s apartment early Saturday morning. Sam was “freaked out” and told Daniel that there was a body in his apartment. He’d shot Julie the night before during a drug and alcohol fueled fit of rage. He needed help getting away. He asked Daniel to take his laptop and get rid of it.  Daniel dropped Sam off in Long Beach on Saturday afternoon. He didn’t know anything about the murder weapon. He hadn’t even seen it.

The CMPD wanted to know why Daniel agreed to help a murderer escape.

Daniel claimed he was afraid for his and Rachel’s safety.  Sam had threatened to kill them both if Daniel didn’t help him. In return for helping Sam get away, Daniel would take all of Sam’s money out of his bank account. Some of the money would get to Sam.  Daniel would keep the rest. He insisted that Rachel didn’t know anything about any of it.

The CMPD wanted to know how Daniel was going to get the money to Sam.

Now Daniel acknowledged that Sam had purchased a burner phone.  Sam would eventually call Daniel with information on how to get him money.

The police ask Daniel for a DNA sample to “eliminate” him.  He obliged, but remembered that he had been in Sam’s apartment on Friday night.  He had used the bathroom.

At this point, Daniel agreed to tell the officers everything ;  anything he could do to get out of jail for his wedding that Friday.

The officers were not buying Daniel’s story.  He wasn’t going anywhere.

He was being charged as an accessory to murder.

Daniel was in a lot of trouble. The police suggested he cooperate. Tell them everything. Lead them to Sam. That would look better for him in court. He should “man up.”  The officers asked him what they should tell his fiancée.  “Tell her I’m sorry,” he quietly mumbled.

Things continued to get worse for Daniel.  The police tried a perfectly legal but dishonest tactic.

They told Daniel about finding his DNA at Julie’s crime scene.

His story changed again.

Sam had taken Daniel up to his apartment and Daniel had seen “the goddamned body.” He said he saw the bullet holes in Julie’s head.

Things really unraveled for Daniel after that. Officers said that seasoned detectives weren’t able to see the bullet holes because of Julie’s position and her hair. Daniel tried to talk his way out of this error by saying Sam had told him that there were two shots. This didn’t work.

Now they were sure that Daniel was part of this murder.  Maybe he even shot Julie.  They tried to convince Daniel to “let it go” and that he would “feel much better,” once he told them the truth.

Daniel wanted to talk to Rachel.

That is where Judge Conley ended for the day.

Next up – The last witnesses