Sentencing Day Part Two: Victim Impact Statements

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

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

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

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

Victim Impact Statements Prior To Sentencing

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

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

Sam Herr’s Family Victim Impact Statements

Sam’s cousin Leah was up first.

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

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

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

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

Steve Herr’s Statements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Kibuishi’s Family Victim Impact Statements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Wozniak’s Response To The Victim Impact Statements

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

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

Judge Conley Sentences Daniel Wozniak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing Day

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

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

Normally, I visit him on Mondays.

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

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

No phone call.

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

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

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

The Sentencing Hearing of Daniel Wozniak

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

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

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

Then there was me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, I’m okay with it.

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

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

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

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

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

Sanders’ Last Motion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Next…

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

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: 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 – 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.

Closing Arguments

When closing arguments in Daniel’s trial started on December 16, 2015, I was feeling… I guess the best word is anticipatory.  The defense had rested the day before after barely questioning the prosecution’s witnesses and calling none of their own. So far Scott Sanders and his team hadn’t put forth much of a defense (at least not in front of the jury), but I figured we were all about to see some fancy-schmancy lawyering now that we were in the closing stretch of the guilt phase.

A Secondary Verdict?

Before the jury was brought back into the courtroom, there was some discussion about the possibility of a secondary verdict.  There was an option to find Daniel guilty of second-degree murder instead of first-degree.  Like anyone thought that was going to happen.

Then, Scott Sanders brought up something I never would have considered. Some of the camera footage taken during the first days of trial showed Daniel being escorted by deputies into the courtroom, and it was easy to see that he was handcuffed.

If you remember, the jury wasn’t supposed to ever see Daniel in cuffs.  Jury members are told to avoid media coverage of the trial, but stuff happens. It wouldn’t be impossible for one of them to accidentally catch a glimpse of that footage on the nightly news.

Judge Conley asked the camera operators to wait until Daniel was seated and no longer handcuffed before they filmed him from now on.

But, HEY JURY MEMBERS! Now that the trial is over, I would LOVE to talk to you.  I have a few thousand questions I’d like to ask you.  Let’s start with: Did you know that Daniel was incarcerated during the trial?

Matt Murphy’s Closing Argument

When the jury was brought in, the judge explained that the “party with the burden of proof” gets to speak first and last.  This meant that Matt Murphy would get a rebuttal after the defense finished its closing argument – like a Scott Sanders sandwich.

Matt started off by telling the jury that during this, the guilt phase of the trial, they are only responsible for deciding if Daniel Wozniak broke the law.  Did he commit murder and was it a calculated decision to kill? This was a time for a sterile examination of the facts. This was not the time to consider punishment. Was he guilty of first degree murder?

Murphy then went on to remind the jury of the “cornucopia of evidence” in this case (Thanksgiving of murder?).  He said that the amount of evidence was so overwhelming, he wished he “could borrow” some of it for his other cases.

(“Oh, Matt. You jokester.” Slaps own knee.)

I’ll tell you something, if someone hurt me or one of my loved ones, I would want Matt Murphy to prosecute them.  You know what I’m sayin?

That black backpack alone easily connected Daniel to Sam’s murder.  Daniel’s DNA and Sam’s blood were all over Sam’s personal items found in the bag.

Matt talked about how the evidence didn’t need to eliminate all possible doubt, though, because everything in life is open to some possible or imaginary doubt.

Murphy didn’t have to prove who made the implicating Google searches found on the computer in Daniel and Rachel’s apartment. The searches themselves were “very powerful evidence.”

Unanswered Questions

He admitted that there were still some unanswered questions. Like: how did Daniel get Sam’s PIN number? The prosecution didn’t know, but Murphy said it was okay for the jury to just “guess” a way that Daniel could have acquired it. He suggested that Daniel had glanced over Sam’s shoulder at some point when Sam was taking out money.

My guess… I think Sam willingly gave his PIN to someone he trusted.

Murphy told the jury that Daniel had started working on his murderous “plan” months before the killings took place. That was why Daniel reconnected with Wesley (ATM kid).  But during Wesley’s testimony, questions came up about when this all took place. Not all of the answers Wesley gave worked with the prosecution’s timeline. So during his closing, Murphy suggested that the teen was probably just confused.

Money The Real Motive?

Even though the prosecution is not obligated to provide a motive, Matt Murphy knew exactly what the motive was in this case: money.

Daniel was in debt. On the PowerPoint, Murphy showed two overdrawn bank accounts.  The thing is, the total was under a $1000.  Yup, that’s not a typo.  I didn’t forget a zero. And because Daniel was estranged from his family, he had no one to help him with the $1000. Also, he’d recently gotten a DUI (incurring more debt).

And the most crucial need for money: Daniel and Rachel’s impending wedding / honeymoon.

Side note – On Dateline, Rachel said her parents were traditional and they were planning to pay for the wedding. So that expense was actually covered.

Matt Murphy wondered, if Daniel needed money so desperately, why didn’t he just stick to “good old identity theft?”  That is a good question, MM!

Hey, I just realized that Matt Murphy and Murder Musings have the same initials.

Here’s why I don’t believe the “murder for financial gain” motive:

First, Daniel had to know that it would take some time to clean out Sam’s bank account, especially if he was planning to do it by maxing out an ATM every day.  I would think that Daniel would want as much time as possible, so as to collect as much money as possible.  But Daniel didn’t have any time, because the police started looking for Sam right away.

Why did they start looking for Sam?  It wasn’t because his father was worried about him.  The police wanted to find Sam because Julie’s body was in his apartment. That brought them into this case immediately. And that didn’t help Daniel’s plan.

Also, Daniel had Sam’s checkbook and credit cards.  Why weren’t they used? Why didn’t he just forge a check to himself and get a much larger sum than the $400 ATM limit?

And seriously, that amount of debt was so paltry.  It’s certainly not insurmountable. Get a job. Come up with a creative sign and panhandle on the offramp. Hell, you could probably make $1000 selling plasma and semen.

But, in his confession, Daniel said he did it for the money. So that must be the motive, right?

Matt Murphy finished up his closing with a PowerPoint list and a restating of the evidence against Daniel.  Then it was all wrapped up in Daniel’s confession.  The one where he finally stopped lying and told the true story… right?

Hey blog-reading juror: how important was that confession to you guys? Would you still have found him guilty without it?

The Defense’s Closing Argument

The prosecution finished and I got myself ready to watch Scott Sanders jump into action. What was he going to say? Was there any possible defense? Would there be a Perry Mason moment?

Spoiler alert – there wasn’t.

That is when Daniel’s other lawyer, assistant defense attorney Tracy LeSage, stood up to address the jury. Well, I did not see that one coming. Why wasn’t the man Daniel calls “Fearless Leader” taking the lead here?

I started coming up with theories in my head. Maybe the defense team thought Tracy would be more likable than Scott. Perhaps Scott was saving his energy for the penalty phase. Did he have a sore throat and no one offered him a Ricola? I don’t know.

The soft-spoken LeSage put forth a very simple request to the jury: Try to see the whole picture.  She wanted them to really study the facts. Tracy said that nothing in life is black and white. She just wanted them to keep an open mind.  That was the gist of it, and she was done.

Matt Murphy made one last comment.  It was some kind of analogy about Daniel driving a car. Sorry, my notes are sketchy on this part. I was getting hungry.

Lunch break!

Final Instructions

Judge Conley gave the jury final instructions before they started their deliberations. One point he made was that they were to ignore that Daniel did not testify.  They shouldn’t guess or assume any reasons for this.

Unfortunately, I think most of us believe that if a person doesn’t testify, he’s guilty? I’m sure that Daniel and the defense team are well aware of that.

Then, the jury was ushered into the deliberation room by Deputy Mike (who is a really nice guy by the way). I think everyone knew that a guilty verdict wouldn’t be long in coming.

And I think that EVERYONE in the room agreed that Daniel was guilty of something.

I’ll be digging into the penalty phase of the trial next.  I’m also planning a post of my thoughts and reactions to that Dateline episode.

Guilty – Part Six

On December 15, 2015, Matt Murphy called Michael Anthony Cohen of the Costa Mesa Police Department  back to the stand  and continued to show the jury Daniel’s interview with the police.

The police continued to work on Daniel for a confession as they tried to locate Rachel. They made comments like, “your world has crashed down,” ”just try to right a wrong,” and “I’m not a dentist. I don’t pull teeth.”

Daniel was crying.  Face buried in his hands, he said, “I did not murder anyone.”

Then, Rachel showed up at the police station and was brought into the interrogation room with Daniel.  He was supposed to tell Rachel what his role had been in Julie’s murder. He was quiet and mumbly on the recording.  The jurors had the advantage of being able to follow along on a paper transcript.

Daniel admitted to Rachel that he’d been involved in an ATM scam with Sam. He told her about Sam coming to their apartment on Saturday morning. How Daniel had seen the body and helped Sam get away.

Before leaving the room, Rachel asked when she could talk to Daniel again.  She was told she could call from jail.

Daniel whispered, “I fucked up.”

“Yeah you did,” she whispered back as she left.

The questioning continued. Daniel stuck to his current story. The police asked Daniel to give closure to Julie’s family.  When they got nothing else, they booked him.

That’s where the video stopped for now.  The jury would next hear an audio recording of a telephone call between Rachel and Daniel.  It was a game changer.

Rachel knew the call was recorded. Daniel knew the call was recorded. So when Rachel told Daniel that his brother Tim had a murder weapon, they both knew the police had heard this.

Rachel said she was going to call the detective.  When he heard all this damning information, Daniel told her, “I’m going to tell them everything… I have to do something now.”

He asked her to come to the police station right away, and told her, “Now I’m dead.”

“Baby, you are already dead,” said Rachel Buffett to her fiancé right before he confessed to murdering two people.

The Confession

We went back to the video and the now-familiar interrogation room scene.

This is when Daniel admitted to being the murderer of not only Julie, but Sam as well.  Daniel told the police about shooting Sam at the Liberty Theatre, and how he eventually went back to dismember the body.

They learned that Julie’s murder was part of a devious plan to frame Sam.  Daniel told them it was all for the motive of “money and insanity.”

During this confession, Daniel went from weeping to hysterical laughter and back to weeping again.  He repeatedly reminded the police that it was “all (him) and no one else,” who committed these horrendous acts.

The video was finally turned off, and Scott Sanders now had the opportunity to cross examine Cohen.

He asked if there was a formal interview with Rachel Buffett at the time of Daniel’s confession.  Cohen didn’t know.

MMTVL just has a few questions to add:

Was there any DNA actually found on Julie’s body?  Are there any more recorded phone calls between Rachel and Daniel? Is there more video of Daniel’s interrogation the jury was not shown?

Next Witness: Detective Larry Fettis

Detective Larry Fettis was in charge of the search scene at the El Dorado Nature Center. He testified that he found the skeletal remains of a human hand. He had marked it as evidence.

No cross examination.

MMTVL (sound effect of shivering)

Next Witness: Detective Jose Morales

Morales was the second to last witness for the prosecution. He was asked to explain how he’d gone through Julie’s cell phone.  He told the jury about taking screen shots (the ones that were used in court).

Morales also identified locations on a map displayed on the overhead screen. He pointed out the Hunger Artists Theatre, Orange Coast College, the Camden Apartments, etc.

MMTVL Oh hey are you the officer who interrupted my rehearsal that one time?  We were on a break anyway. Hunger Artists isn’t there anymore, by the way. This has no relevence to the case, it’s just too bad the place closed.

Final Witness For The Prosecution: Dr. Anthony Juguioun

Dr. Anthony Juguioun is the CMPD Chief Forensic Pathologist. He did not actually perform the autopsies on Sam and Julie, but he had the notes from the doctor who was given that assignment.

Dr. Juguioun showed a diagram of a skull while he explained Julie’s bullet wounds.  Next, a diagram of a male body was shown on the screen as the doctor discussed Sam’s bullet wounds and how his body had been decapitated.  He said that Sam’s right hand was never found.

There was no cross examination of Dr. Juguioun.

After this final witness, the prosecution rested.

After calling no witnesses at all, the defense rested.

Up next: Closing arguments.

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.

This is How Daniel Bought Me Lunch

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

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

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

Here is what I’m understanding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

corruption quote

Inside the Courtroom

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

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

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

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

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

After The Proceedings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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