Daniel Wozniak has had many court appearances in the past 5 years, and the way things are going, there will be many more.
Today, for the first time, I was in the court room to watch it happen.
Here’s a simplified version of the legal mumbo-jumbo covered today:
- Daniel’s lawyer, Public Defender Scott Sanders, had previously filed a motion to remove the Orange County District Attorney’s office from prosecuting Daniel’s case.
- Sanders is also the Public Defender for Scott Dekraai, a man facing trial for the deadliest mass killing in Orange County history: The Seal Beach salon killings.
- In both cases, which are constantly being linked together by the press, Scott Sanders is claiming prosecutorial misconduct specifically linked to the Orange County Sherriff’s office and the secret misuse of jailhouse informants.
- In Daniel’s case, there is also the issue about the TV show LockUp Orange County, which featured Daniel and other inmates in an episode called “Extended Stay – Unholy Trinity.” Sanders claims that the O.C. Sheriffs and the D.A.’s office aimed the show’s producers in Daniel Wozniak’s direction (this has been denied by the producers of LockUp, who say they were just randomly drawn to Daniel and his “actor’s smile.”)
- It is my understanding that a similar motion was approved by a different judge in the Scott Dekraai case when the Orange County D.A. was removed from his murder trial this past March.
- Today’s hearing was so D.A. Matt Murphy could argue against the motion to dismiss the D.A.’s office (and Murphy) from prosecuting in Daniel’s case. It was a motion to stop Sander’s motion.
Okay, that’s the legal stuff. Let’s talk about me.
A Personal Account
I arrived late. The hearing was set for nine in the morning, and because I got a little turned around in the courthouse (my friends will tell you that this is no surprise; my sense of direction is awful), I didn’t get to Judge Conley’s courtroom until 9:20.
There was a big CLOSED sign in the window, so I was worried I’d messed it all up and wouldn’t be able to watch. But then, three people who looked like “law people” got off the elevator. They had suits and briefcases and one of them was pushing a dolly that was stacked with cardboard file boxes. I decided they looked like they knew more than I do, so I just asked them about the “closed” sign. Together, we came to the conclusion that since I wasn’t a witness or juror… what the hell, go for it!
I quietly sneaked in the first set of doors and peeked through a window. I still couldn’t see if Daniel was even the defendant, so I opened the second set of doors and slipped into the closest seat, in the back row. A deputy looked up at me, but seemed unconcerned by my presence, so I figured it was OK.
I saw Daniel sitting next to his lawyer at the defendant’s table. His back was to me and he wore his usual orange jumpsuit with “Orange County Jail” written across the shoulders. The tag was sticking up from his collar, and I wanted so much to walk right up to him and tuck it in. It’s just a thing I’d do for any of my friends.
I restrained myself.
Although we had talked briefly on the phone over the weekend about me possibly coming to the hearing, Daniel had no idea I’d come in. I’d wondered if he was hopeful that I would show. He probably figured I’d changed my mind or just couldn’t bring myself to wake up that early. Now I was sitting about ten rows behind him. I hoped my friend would somehow realize I had come to support him.
Just two rows behind Daniel sat the parents of murder victim Samuel Herr. I had seen their pictures many times in print, and I’d watched Steve Herr when he appeared with Rachel Buffett on the Dr. Phil Show, so I recognized him and his wife immediately. There were two other people sitting with them—a couple about the same age as Steve Herr’s parents—who I suspect were also relatives.
The four of them were the only people wearing headsets during the entire proceeding. Why? No idea. If you know, leave a comment!
Directly behind Mr. Herr sat a man who may have been the father of Julie Kibuishi.
Seeing these people in person made my stomach hurt.
As the D.A. mentioned during the proceedings, Sam Herr’s parents have attended every court hearing related to this case over the past five years.
I think I heard: one hundred and four times.
Aside from the family, it looked like the twenty or so other people sitting around the courtroom were likely a mix of law students (young people in business suits) and reporters.
Then there was me. Most of my tattoos were hidden by clothing, but my hair color is always noticeable. Also (and I know it was just in my head) I felt like you could read it on my face: I’m here because I’m friends with “the killer.”
District Attorney Matt Murphy Off Camera
The next hour consisted of the two attorneys arguing for and against the motion to remove the O.C.D.A. from the case.
A side note: Since I’m such a fan of Dateline and other true crime shows, it was pretty cool to see D.A. Matt Murphy in person after seeing him so many times on television.
Truth is, I was a little disappointed. It seems like he tries harder to be interesting when TV cameras are on him. Today? He presented a thirty minute PowerPoint presentation to illustrate his argument against the motion.
To me, he came off like he was cranky. He seemed personally bothered by the accusations against the D.A.’s Office. It was like he really wanted to make sure his own name and reputation would not be smeared. He complained about the many articles written about him and his office and their possible misconduct, claiming that the coverage has been “bitingly negative” against the prosecution.
Even he must have realized how he sounded, because he repeatedly pointed out that he wasn’t concerned about himself or his career. This was “all about the case.”
When the Judge called for a fifteen minute break, I decided to move to a different seat, where I could see better. Steve Herr stood up at the same time, and he happened to look at me.
I’m sure it was just a “you’re a random human in my eye line” look, but inside it felt like a “how could you possibly be friends with the man who murdered my son” look.
When Daniel was brought back into the court after the break ended, he finally saw me. His eyes lit up and a huge smile appeared on his face.
I almost felt a bit guilty. I would hate for Daniel’s reaction to my presence to cause an observer to think he was flip about the gravity of this situation. It’s like I could read the headline: “Brutal Killer Smiles During Court Proceedings.” It’s no wonder he doesn’t want his parents there.
It was great that he was happy to see me, but I was hoping he’d have a bit more of a poker face. Did the victims’ family members notice? Did they now connect me with Daniel, and see me as someone “on his side?” From then on, I made sure to avoid looking at them for fear of eye contact.
There was another hour of back and forth with the lawyers. During that time, I’m pretty sure Daniel made sure to get a couple more glimpses in my direction. I’m guessing it gave him moral support, and that was good, because he is my friend.
My friend who possibly murdered two people (or at the very least, was involved).
Obviously, there is much more to learn about this case. I hope information will come out showing that Daniel isn’t responsible for the deaths of these people, because the idea that he could be a murderer is painful for me. The man I know is much more than just this heinous act, and I believe that I can hate the sin, but still love the sinner.
In the end, Judge Conley denied D.A. Murphy’s motion. So, I guess Daniel’s side “won” this little battle.
When Daniel stood up, he made sure to look at me again before he was taken out of the courtroom. He smiled and winked. I think he mouthed something about trying to call me later. Then, hands cuffed and feet shackled, he was shuffled out by two deputies.
Keeping my head down, I hurried out the courtroom and went directly to the elevators.
Then, I did some nice normal grocery shopping.