Guilty – Part Two

Hello dear readers. First, let me apologize for taking so long to get another post out. I’m sure some of you were worried that I’ve lost interest in Daniel and this story. Maybe even hoping (I’m looking at you, fake Matt Murphy).

Nope. A LOT has been happening the past couple of weeks – including Christmas. But I’m back, so let’s talk trial! Murderer Musings TV Lawyer MMTVL is back on the case.

It’s an emotional experience, being in that courtroom. The sadness and anger coming from the victims’ families is palpable. Many supporters show up for both Julie and Sam every day: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, all there to see that justice is done for their loved ones.

Daniel Wozniak has me.

I’m not his only supporter, but I’m the only one who didn’t heed his wish that we not come to the trial. I’m stubborn. I want to get as much of the story as possible.

He’s okay with it now.

Now, before any trolls go crazy in my comment section, when I say “supporter,” I mean someone who is Daniel’s friend.  He has been found guilty of some insanely horrible crimes.  I do not support them.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being his friend.  Let’s be honest, I always figured he’d be found guilty.  He never claimed to be an innocent man.

Day Two

I had trouble finding a seat on day one of the trial, so I decided I better get to the courthouse super early on day two.

Guess what? NOT necessary.

First off, there was no one on the eighth floor when I arrived at about 8:15 am. I probably should have known it wouldn’t be as busy when I didn’t see any news vans outside.  Also, I forgot that court was starting at 9:30 am instead of 9:00 am.  Live and learn.

The First Witness For The Prosecution

The first witness of the day was Joseph Niebles, a special agent for the FBI (cool, right?) . He testified about Google searches that were found on computers in Daniel and Rachel’s apartment.

Right after Niebles took the stand, Scott Sanders asked for a sidebar (I’m not actually sure about the technical term, but the lawyers and the judge went into a back room for about ten minutes).

I’m guessing Sanders was trying to keep the jury from hearing about some pretty incriminating searches.  He didn’t win that one.  So a long list went up on the PowerPoint screen, including “Making sure a body is not found,” “Quick ways to kill people,” and “tux and party rentals.”

There was no cross examination of this witness.

MMTVL would like to know how Special Agent Niebles could be sure that the searches were made by Daniel Wozniak as opposed to Rachel Buffet, who also lived in this apartment.

The Second Witness For The Prosecution

The next witness was Lester James McKinney (apologies for any name misspellings – witnesses spell their names aloud for the record, but sometimes people were mumbly or spoke too quickly), a friend of Sam’s.

Some interesting information came up in questioning.  Lester and Sam became friends while working at the same company in 2008. He met Julie through Sam.

Lester and Julie had mutual interests such and dance and fashion, and they were pretty close.  He was another witness brought forth by the prosecution to show that Sam and Julie were not romantically involved. He stated that Sam protected Julie like a big brother would.

For the cross examination of Lester Mckinney, MMTVL had nothing on Scott Sanders. During questioning, Lester admitted Julie was attracted to Sam and that Lester and Julie had discussed her curiosity about the size of Sam’s penis. The question was answered when Sam “whipped out his penis and flashed it around” as a joke when he’d been drinking at a party.  It didn’t sound like this was nefarious in any way, but it’s not exactly brother and sister behavior either.

I’ve always wondered why the texts sent to Julie on the night of her murder repeatedly mentioned that there would be “no sex” that night.  It would be weird to bring that up again and again when you’re just in a platonic relationship with someone.

Going along with the prosecution’s claim, in one of Julie’s replies to “sham” Sam, she responded “Ew,” and said the two of them were like “bro and sis.”

I don’t know.  I’d think she would have asked, “Dude, why do you keep bringing up sex?” She did say she wouldn’t be spending the night.

Matt Murphy claimed that Daniel believed Julie and Sam were sleeping together because, as Lester McKinney stated on the stand, “Julie was always with Sam.”

What do you all think? Be sure to leave a comment!

The Third Witness For The Prosecution

The third prosecution witness of the day was a young man named Wesley Freilich.  Wesley has the unfortunate honor of being the sixteen year old “ATM Kid” who led police to Daniel Wozniak after being arrested for using Sam Herr’s ATM card.

Wesley talked about meeting Daniel as a ten year old. He didn’t have a father growing up, and Daniel had befriended the kid while the two were doing theater together. Wesley had respected Daniel and saw him as a big brother type who he could go to for advice.

Even though the two of them had not been in contact for a couple of years, when Daniel approached Wesley in 2010 with a money making opportunity, Wesley agreed to help Daniel in spite of his own misgivings.  He became even more uncomfortable when told to wear a hat and sunglasses whenever he used the ATM card to take out cash.  He was supposed to get the maximum amount of cash every day, using the PIN number that Daniel had supplied.

MMTVL really wants to know how Daniel got Sam’s PIN number.  This isn’t something Scott Sanders could learn from a cross examination of Wesley, but since we were on the subject…

During Wesley’s time on the stand, Matt Murphy did a pretty good job of showing how Daniel had betrayed the trust of this kid who looked up to him.

Daniel lied to him about the legality of what he was doing, and ended up getting Wesley into a heap of trouble. It was after using Sam’s ATM card to order a pizza that the FBI was able to track the card’s activity, and they swarmed Wesley’s home (helicopters included).  The sixteen year old was put in handcuffs on his front lawn for all his neighbors to see. As one would imagine, he was terrified.

During police questioning, the confused Wesley told everything about how he had come into possession of a missing man’s ATM card.  Remember, at this point in the investigation, the police still believed that Sam Herr was on the run after murdering Julie in his apartment.

During the defense’s cross examination, Scott Sanders  focused on any changes Wesley had noticed in his friend “Dan.” Wesley said that during this time period, Daniel was agitated and very stressed out, which was completely unlike him.

MMTVL doesn’t see how knowing this about Daniel’s behavior at that time can be used as a “defense.”  It isn’t that difficult for Matt Murphy to say, “Of course he was stressed out, he’d just murdered the card holder.”

You couldn’t help but to feel bad for Wesley, whose life was permanently changed because of his unsuspecting involvement in a double murder scheme. I’m not sure what type of punishment the law will have for him, but Wesley testified that day without having an immunity deal.  Pretty brave.

During the lunch break I told Wesley that I thought he’d done a good job on the stand. The whole situation had to be intimidating even for the now-twenty one year old.  I wanted to ask him about his feelings toward Daniel now, but I’m a blogger, and he was a witness. Raquel Herr had to remind us of that when she quietly told Wesley’s mother that he shouldn’t talk to me.

I felt terrible.  I took the stairs so I could get out of there quickly. MMTVL really should have known better.

Up Next

Okay, it’s going to take a couple more posts to cover the rest of the guilt portion of the trial. I won’t take so long to post next time.

Then, we’ll talk about the gut-wrenching penalty phase.  By the time you all read this post, there will probably be a jury decision about whether Daniel should get life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) or the death penalty (DP).

Keep an eye on the Facebook page for updates.  I’ll try to tweet more too.

Next up: Guilty – Part Three

Daniel Wozniak Guilty

Daniel Wozniak has been found guilty.

In a recent letter to me he wrote

The jury found the defendant guilty of two counts of 187. First degree murder. Sam Herr (on 5-21-10) and Julie Kibuishi (on 5 – 22-10). Special Circumstances were elected for both victims: A) Murder for financial gain. B) Multiple murder.    There is also an enhancement: Personal discharge of a firearm.

I want to start by saying that I understand why this jury found Daniel Wozniak guilty.  It didn’t take very long either: about two hours. In their seats, going on just the information put forth in court, they really had no option.

Matt Murphy used the term “clinical” when describing the purpose of the guilt phase.  He told the jury that this was the time to put aside emotions. They shouldn’t wonder about motive. They don’t need to consider if any other people were involved. This is when you just decide the black and white part of the case. Did Daniel Wozniak participate in the murders of two people? Guilty.

Was I in any way surprised by this verdict? Nope.

Daniel wasn’t, either.

He has never tried to convince me that he’s a completely innocent man who is serving unfair time. Nor would I be foolish enough to believe him if he did.

However, the “if you blinked, you missed it” trial I sat though left me thoroughly disappointed.

First of all, it was nothing like on TV.  I will be the first to admit I don’t know the law well enough to figure out why or why not certain questions were asked (or not asked).  Maybe TV lawyers are breaking real laws all the time by bringing in certain evidence or asking specific questions.

But since the real lawyers left me wondering about so many details, I figure I can’t be the only one who is curious.

So, I’ve decided to play TV Lawyer for this post.  From here on, I’ll be referred to as MMTVL (Murderer Musings TV Lawyer).

Let’s start with the first witness.

If you don’t already know this, the prosecution gets to make its case first.  All the prosecution witnesses are put forth before the defense even starts its arguments (unless the defense has made an opening argument, which did not happen in this case).

Each prosecution witness was questioned by Matt Murphy. After that, Scott Sanders was given the opportunity to cross examine that witness. Then, the prosecution gets to re-cross, and the defense can then do a final re-re-cross.

I have no idea how long this back and forth is allowed to go on. But in Daniel’s case, it really doesn’t matter, because the defense rarely questioned the witnesses.

Yes. You read that right.

The Witnesses

1) The first witness was Steve Herr.  He is victim Sam Herr’s father, and was the one to find Julie Kibuishi’s body in Sam’s  apartment.  He, of course, had called the police immediately. He’d been positive that his son had not killed Julie. Mr. Herr was not on the stand long.

No cross examination.

MMTVL  wondered why the jury wasn’t told that Mr. Herr visited Daniel in jail. I don’t blame him for wanting to talk to Daniel. I would just like to know what they discussed. Does Mr. Herr think the prosecution has the correct story?

2) Costa Mesa Police detective Stephanie Selkinske was next. She mostly just gave facts about when she had been called to Sam’s apartment after the body of a young woman was found there.  She gave the address of the Camden apartments.  She referred to photographs of the crime scene (the majority were not shown on the big screen; the jury members were each given printed photos to examine). Selkinske also pointed out that Julie had been wearing a tiara, which her brother had given her earlier, at dinner.

No cross examination.

MMTVL couldn’t think of any questions either.

3) The next witness was another member of the CMPD, Shawna Murry. She’s a crime scene specialist. During her testimony, we found out that there was an open pregnancy test found in Sam’s bathroom. Murry also discussed a piece of paper with a peculiar sketch that was found in the apartment.  She said it appeared to be a drawing of an Asian woman lying on a bed.  Flames had been drawn around the head of the woman and the words, “I’m done,” were written on the picture.

No cross examination.

Your Honor, I object. MMTVL wants to know more.  Were any fingerprints or DNA found on the pregnancy test or the drawing? The pregnancy test was open, but had it been used? If so, what were the results?

4) Ruben Manacho Salas, a close friend of Sam’s, was next. He talked about how he’d met Sam in a speech class at Orange Coast College.  The two of them bonded because both were military veterans. Salas testified that Julie and Sam were only friends, even though it wasn’t unusual for Julie to spend the night in Sam’s apartment. He was one of the many people to say they were like brother and sister. Salas also talked of calling Sam’s cell phone on the day he went missing. The person who answered called him “bro” and was too busy to talk at that time. Salas stated that Sam never referred to him as “bro,” so he was suspicious that he had even talked to Sam.

No cross examination.

MMTVL would waive questioning the witness at this time, while retaining the right to call him back at a later time.  

At this point, one of the previous witnesses (one of the CMPD – sorry I can’t remember which one) was recalled to the stand.  This was to establish that Julie had a Taylor Swift song as her ringtone on her cellphone.

No cross examination.

MMTVL – Uh, why did that just happen? 

5) John Randolph. He also lived in the Camden Apartments and was an OCC student. He talked about the big social scene at the apartment complex.  He was friendly with all the parties involved, as the apartment complex had a general party atmosphere because so many students lived there. He was even supposed to officiate Daniel and Rachel’s wedding for free. Randolph was asked about Sam’s possible drug use. He wasn’t aware of any.

Randolph was the first witness to be cross examined by Scott Sanders. I wish I had court transcripts in my hot little hands, because I wrote one note:  “Only asked a couple of questions.” I must not have thought anything noteworthy was brought up.

MMTVL would have asked a bunch of questions about Daniel and Rachel’s relationship. Did they fight at all? Did he think they were a good match? And so on. 

6) Christopher Williams. He was the last witness of the day.  There is no way I can give a one or two paragraph summary of his testimony.  It was, by far, the most interesting and action-packed of the day.  I could probably dedicate an entire book chapter to him.

Christopher Williams’ Testimony

  • Met Daniel and Rachel through one of the actresses in “Nine.”
  • Loaned them money.
  • Told them he got the money from a loan shark (not true).
  • Was with Rachel in her apartment when Sam was supposedly murdered. He described her odd behavior, peculiar computer searches, and her negative comments about Daniel.
  • He may have briefly met Sam and could be the last person to see him with Daniel.
  • Saw Daniel and Rachel in the play on the night of Sam’s murder. He was asked a lot of questions about how Daniel and Rachel were acting that night, on and off stage. Words like “agitated” and “emotional” were used to describe them both.

Overall, Chris Williams’ time on the witness stand brought forth some of the most emotional and intriguing testimony of the trial.

MMTVL thought the defense asked good questions without pushing too hard on Williams, who was very distraught on the stand. 

The End of Day One

At the end of day one, I’m pretty sure that most people in the the courtroom thought it was a very successful day for the prosecution.  That’s how I saw it.

When I talked to Daniel on the phone that night, he was surprisingly good tempered.  He seemed pleased about some of the information that came forth during the testimony that day.

Maybe if I knew the whole true story, I could see what he was seeing.

Coming soon: Daniel Wozniak Guilty – Part Two. The continuation of the Prosecution’s witnesses.

Let the Trial Begin

court_doors_900x470When I went to hearings for Daniel’s case in the past, I’d park in the same structure as when I visit the jail.  It’s about a ten minute walk to the Santa Ana Superior Courthouse.  On my route, I pass a little homeless camp; a very polite and unobtrusive group of people. I like going the “back way” because then my impatient self doesn’t have to  maneuver around all the (rightfully unenthusiastic) jurors on the Civic Center Drive sidewalk.

(I’m probably going to walk with jurors from now on though, you know, since I just told you where I walk and I have some pretty extreme commentators on this blog.)

Everything was as per usual on Wednesday, December 9th… that is, until I walked past a row of news vans on the way. I was pretty sure they were there for the same reason I was.

That was the opening day of Daniel’s trial: the guilt phase.

The penalty phase comes after the guilt phase. The interesting thing I’ve noticed is, in court hearings, the penalty phase is discussed as though it’s inevitable. It is never called the possible penalty phase.

I wonder if that is the norm? Is is always assumed the defendant will be found guilty, and that a penalty phase will be necessary?

There was an unusually long line to get through the metal detectors at the front entrance of the courthouse.  I hadn’t seen it snake out the door before. Inside, it took the elevators an inordinate amount of time to make their way to the first floor.

I made jokes with strangers about placing bets on which elevator would arrive first.

“Those two are neck and neck! Which one will win?”

“My money is on elevator 3!”

As soon as one arrived, I shoved myself in and let the claustrophobia attack begin.

Courtroom 30 is on the eighth floor. I’d been there before, and usually had my pick of where to sit. I wasn’t at all prepared for the crowd I found when I opened one of the double doors.

The place was packed. I chided myself for not realizing this would be the case.  Duh! It is the biggest court case in Orange County this year. At least that’s what an OC Register reporter later told me.

Seats were saved with coats and purses. People milled around in the aisles. Discussions happened in little groups. Photographers and a TV camera were set up in the front by the jury box.

I was hoping to sit where Daniel might catch a glimpse of me. Maybe I could be a friendly face in the crowd. He’d told me I should sit “stage right / audience left,” so there was a possibility he could see me when he looked at his lawyer. I was lucky to even find a seat near the back.

I made a note to ask Daniel why the row directly behind the defense table was blocked off with two heavy black chairs.   Later, he told me he wasn’t sure, but thought it might be to keep an empty pathway in case the crowd needed an emergency exit.

I’m not sure why, but I was surprised to see all the lawyers “on stage” already. Coming from the world of the theatre, I kind of expected a dramatic entrance.  I wanted to see Matt Murphy and Scott Sanders coming in with a big musical number.

It would have been apropos, if you ask me. I wonder if either of them knows how to tap dance.

Nothing special happened when Judge Conely sat down at his bench, either.  I wrote down another question for Daniel: “Where was the ‘all rise’ and the ‘you may be seated?'”

It wasn’t until the bailiffs brought Daniel into the courtroom that the mood shifted. This was probably the first time a lot of these people had ever seen him in person. Does he look dangerous to other people? He was wearing gray slacks and a blue pinstripe shirt. His hair and beard looked neatly combed and trimmed. I asked him about it later, and he agreed: it was nice to wear street clothes.

They sat Daniel in his usual spot at the defense table and took off his handcuffs. I got the feeling he was trying to look as blank-faced as possible. He’s a naturally “smiley” guy, so that’s probably a challenge for him.

I can’t imagine being under the scrutiny he’s experiencing. There is no facial expression he can make that will not be judged harshly. No nod or finger tap is safe. The bailiffs prefer he just sit still and face the front wall. This is limiting, but probably the best choice.

Directly across from the jury box was a large built-in projector screen that comes down from the ceiling.  It felt ominous in spite of the “beach scene with surfer” screen saver.  You know we were all wondering what they were going to show up there.

I was excited to get a look at the jury as they were brought in. Daniel had said they were a diverse mix of people when we talked on the telephone the night before. He was right. Males, females, different races and ages. It was an impressive variety, especially for Orange County.

Judge Conley started everything off by giving very thorough jury instructions. He had a slight sing-song quality to his voice, like when you’re explaining something complicated to a group of extremely intelligent children: You know they are smart enough to understand what you’re saying, but you still want to be as simple and clear as possible.

Then, we were off and running.

District Attorney Matt Murphy was up first with the prosecution’s opening remarks. This was the first time I’d had trouble hearing his voice in court.  He seemed to be speaking only for the jury.  Quiet and intimate. People around me complained that he needed to be mic’ed, but I think he was forcing us all to listen hard.

For the next two hours, he gave us an intimidating list of coming attractions as he laid out his case against Daniel Wozniak.

I already knew the main story of this crime.  Daniel is accused of murdering his neighbor, Samuel Herr, on May 21, 2010, and then drain Sam’s bank account.  He is also accused of killing Sam’s friend and tutor, Julie Kibuishi, in Sam’s apartment, on May 22, 2010. This was allegedly an attempt to frame Sam for Julie’s death. Daniel is also accused of dismembering Sam’s body and discarding the parts in a park.

During Murphy’s opening remarks, he talked about a number of aspects of the case that I hadn’t heard before.

  1. A backpack filled with Sam Herr’s belongings was found in the yard of Daniel’s parents’ next door neighbors.
  2. The police are in possession of the gun that was used to kill both Sam and Julie. It’s registered to Daniel’s father. It was turned in to the Long Beach Police by a friend of Daniel’s brother, Tim (who is also facing accessory charges).
  3. Daniel told the young man who actually withdrew money from Sam’s account to wear a hat and sunglasses.
  4. A mysterious drawing was found in Sam’s apartment. Murphy pointed out that it looked like an Asian woman on a bed with flames drawn around her head.
  5. A wedding invitation for Daniel and Rachel’s wedding was also found in Sam’s apartment.
  6. The police think that there are handwriting comparisons between the writing on the envelope for the invitation and the writing on Julie’s clothing when she was found dead in Sam’s apartment.
  7. Julie sometimes spent the night at Sam’s apartment, but Murphy adamantly claimed that the relationship was purely platonic.
  8. Some pretty incriminating Internet searches were found on a computer that had been in Daniel and Rachel’s possession.
  9. There is a recording of a phone call that Daniel made to Rachel from jail after his arrest. Murphy said that it implicates both of them in the crime.

So much of this was new to me.  Some of it was new to Daniel, as well.

The defense chose to waive its right to an opening argument at this time. Daniel told me that Scott Sanders has never done this before.

It all looks pretty bad for Daniel if Matt Murphy can prove everything he says happened.

So, how do I feel about all this evidence against my friend?

Well, so far this is all the prosecution’s story, and I want to see it proven.

I’m going to attempt a sports metaphor here.

Let’s say you have a favorite football team. It’s your home team, but they have a terrible record.  You’re watching a game between your team and the highest ranked team in the league. You really don’t expect your team to win. The odds are against them. The stats look terrible before they even got on the field. Still, you’d like to see a different ending.

But if your team doesn’t deserve to win… maybe they don’t practice, maybe they cheat, maybe they tried to give the other team’s star quarterback food poisoning….you will know in your heart they deserve to lose, but you will still support your team.

Next week – The witnesses for the prosecution.

Update: Both prosecution and defense rested on December 15.  Prosecution finished with its witnesses.  Defense didn’t call any.  I have a lot to catch you up on readers!

Court Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

Court Questions For Daniel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jury Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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