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.

What’s Taking So Long: The Motion Commotion

When I visited Daniel on Friday,  September 11,  he had a large folder with him inside his “visiting cell.”

I knew what it was as soon as I saw it.  We’d talked about it… I’d read about it…

This was the 754-page motion that Daniel’s lawyer, public defender Scott Sanders, had filed on Wednesday, August 26, 2015.

I hadn’t been able to get hold of the motion myself.  Most of my information about it came from Daniel.  He even held up some of the pages — items he found particularly important — to the glass so I could read them.

It’s difficult to get a full picture that way.

I still thought I should write a post about the motion… as much as I knew.  And when I was searching the net to confirm the exact number of pages, lo and behold, I came across a Voice of OC article  with a link to the entire document!

I won’t lie to you and say that I have read all 754 pages.  Not yet, anyway. However, I did go through the table of contents and found all the “chapters” that specifically mentioned Daniel and his case.

Even though every page has “Motion to dismiss – Wozniak” at the bottom, there really wasn’t that much relating specifically to his case.  Don’t quote me on this, but I’d say only about 20% of the over 700 pages mentioned his case specifically.

Scott Sanders’ Claims

Here is an “idiot’s guide” to this motion (from my understanding):

  • There has been corruption in the Orange County Judicial system for the past 30 years.
  • The motion gives NUMEROUS examples of such corruption.
  • The accusations state that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Orange County Sheriffs Department have surreptitiously engaged certain inmates to work as jail informants to learn information about other inmates.  Therefore, inmates are being questioned without their knowledge or the assistance of their lawyers.
  • Daniel was purposefully placed in an area of the jail so that an informant would have access to him.
  • The informant was asking specific questions and working directly with police in order to reduce his own sentence (a third strike).
  • This informant had been working with the police for years and had been used in numerous other cases.
  • Daniel’s rights, and the rights of numerous other accused, have been violated by the OCDA and the police.
  • It also goes into a bunch of stuff about Daniel’s appearance on the MSNBC show LockUp.
  • The OCSD is accused of leading the show’s producers toward Daniel specifically and that Daniel’s appearance on the show could negatively influence how he will be seen by future jurors.
  • Mostly the motion contains copious amounts of documentation supporting the many accusations of corruption

This might all sound a bit monotonous, but it’s causing huge ripples in Orange County, where deals are being made and sentences are being shortened in order for the DA’s office keep its bad behavior swept under a rug.

Public defender Scott Sanders actually managed to get the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office removed from another one of his high profile cases, that of Scott Evans Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to the deadliest mass killing in Orange County history.  Dekraai gunned down eight people in a Seal Beach hair salon.

The Attorney General’s Office has appealed the ruling, and the eventual decision could decide if Dekraai will be sentenced to the death penalty.

So, what’s the point of all this?  What does it have to do specifically with Daniel’s case?

If you ask DA Matt Murphy or victim’s father, Steve Herr, they will say that none of this should be holding up Daniel’s trial.   Murphy claims that the jailhouse informant’s testimony won’t be used against Daniel, so that part is a moot point.

If that’s the case, why has Daniel been in and out of the courtroom repeatedly in the past five years, but still no trial?

What do you think? Do you see this as a violation of Daniel’s basic rights?

How does Daniel himself feel about this massive motion and how it relates to his own future?

I’ll have more information for you, and some quotes and thoughts on the matter from Daniel, in the next post.

Was A Victim Also A Killer?

During one of my earliest visits with Daniel Wozniak, I asked him about something he’d mentioned in a recent letter.

While listing off people who had come to visit him at the Orange County Jail, Daniel had told me that Steve Herr (father of murder victim Samuel Herr) had actually been there more than once.

This surprised the hell out of me.

Why would Steve Herr want to sit across from the man he believes murdered and mutilated his only son?

“He really wants to know the truth,” Daniel told me,  “and I don’t think he trusts the justice system because of what happened in Sam’s own murder case.”

“Sorry… what was that again?” He’d lost me.  I was pretty sure that Daniel was currently in jail for “Sam’s murder case.”

Then Daniel gave me a brief and completely surprising explanation: In 2002, long before Daniel ever met Samuel Herr, there had been a different murder associated with that name.  However, in that case, Herr was the accused.

Daniel went on to surmise that possibly Steve Herr was worried that Daniel would “walk free,” just as his own son did years earlier.  He didn’t know many of the details, but the main point was not lost on me.

Sam Herr was once a defendant.

Of course I started Internet searching as soon as I got home.   I kept thinking, “as if this case wasn’t crazy enough…”  The thing is, I couldn’t find anything about a murder case involving Sam Herr… well, aside from his own murder.

I didn’t believe that Daniel was lying to me, but I thought of myself as pretty sleuth-y, and it was weird that there was nothing to find.  Maybe Daniel was confused about this… maybe he misunderstood…

When I eventually questioned him about the story, he didn’t know why I couldn’t find any information.  He thought it was odd, but when you get right down to it, Daniel has a lot occupying his mind, so worrying about my inabilities to do a Google search wasn’t his top priority.

It turns out that some of you readers are better Internet detectives than I am.

This morning I got an interesting surprise on this blog’s Facebook page.  One of you discovered there actually are a few news articles out there about Herr’s other murder case.  These are stories that tell of a very different side to Army vet Sam Herr. Given those leads, I was able to find two articles from The L.A. Times and one from The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Here’s the rundown:  When Samuel Herr was 19 years old, he was tried for murder because of his alleged role in the stabbing death of another 19-year-old named Byron Benito.

According to Benito’s mother, Benito and Herr had been close friends. In fact, prosecutors stated that it was Samuel Herr who picked up Benito at his house and then, on the night of January 15, 2002, led his unsuspecting friend to an area behind a mobile home park, where he was attacked and killed by a group of suspected gang members… one of which was Herr.

The police believed that Benito was killed as gang retaliation for another murder, even though he was not associated with a gang himself.

There were some accused who just plead guilty right away, accepting fifteen years to life prison sentences.

That left 11 defendants to face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.  The DA decided to hold two separate trials, seemingly because there were so many being charged, and each defendant had a separate lawyer.  Samuel Herr would be part of the second trial.

So… what happened?

All five defendants from the first trial were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The remaining 6, the ones from the second trial, were all acquitted.  They walked out the courtroom as free men.

From what I’ve read, an eyewitness who had testified in the first trial didn’t do so in the second.

Was that the big turning point?  Is one witness the reason that some people are behind bars and others got off Scott-free?

Who knows what leads a jury to finding someone guilty or innocent?  Maybe someone looked at Sam and saw a handsome and charming young man who they refused to believe was a violent gang member and a murderer.

Maybe Sam was innocent.

The articles I read made Sam seem like a cold and calculating murderer. Perhaps you can’t believe everything you read.

I wasn’t in the courtroom.  I didn’t hear the evidence.  I’m assuming that Sam’s parents were there, though.  I’d be surprised if they hadn’t been there supporting their son during his murder trial.

They must have been elated when he was found “not guilty.”

Does that mean now they fear that the judicial system will work to Daniel’s benefit in the same way?

Was justice served in Byron Benito’s case?

I have to wonder if there were some people that were not elated when Sam was acquitted.

Jail Mail, Snail Mail

I grew up in a time before emails, cell phones or texting. I called my high school friends using a land line (also just known as “the phone” back then). I sent people letters and got excited when they wrote back.

Now, I text. I email. I am completely dependent on the electronic world of instant contact.  The common question with friends my age is “how did we survive before..?”

We used to wait, that’s how.  Just like the Arcade Fire song by that name, people had to wait to communicate.

If your family moved you to a different town, then you and your friends wrote letters. Sometimes you even included pictures you’d taken with your 35mm camera and then had developed at a twenty-four hour Kodak kiosk in the mall parking lot.

Pictures were special.

Not so much anymore. I don’t even think twice about texting a picture of whatever random thing interests me…

“Hey check out this cute picture of my dog in his new sweater!”

“I made a tater-tot casserole. Not too shabby, right?”

“Here’s me drinking a smoothie! #IloveJambaJuice”

Now I’m friends with an inmate. Mail, both sending and receiving, is an extremely important aspect of his life… and pictures mean the world to them.

It must be a small escape from the tiny metal and concrete existence: a smiling face holding a smoothie and reminding them of a normal life.

I try to send something in the mail to Daniel every week. The process of sending and receiving “jail mail” can be much more complicated than a lay person might imagine.

contents_not_acceptedIt wasn’t long after we’d been writing back and forth that one of my letters was returned to me with “Contents Not Accepted” stamped all over the front and back.

Inside the envelope, which had been opened and then Scotch-taped closed again, was the greeting card I’d attempted to send to Daniel and an informative guide (with which I had clearly not abided) to sending mail to inmates.

Click for larger view.

It turns out that my “I’m thinking about you and hope you’re having a nice day,” card broke the infamous “BLACK PAPER NOT ALLOWED” rule.

Some of the mail rules are logical.  I get it; you don’t want me to send Daniel weapons or copies of Hustler magazine.  Ok.   Fair enough.

It’s hilarious that the rules specify “female nipples.”  How would a deputy know if a close up nip pic was of a male or a female, or even a human, for that matter?  The inmates see male nipples regularly, so I guess that’s why only the female ones are dangerous.

Why no black paper?  I ended up sending Daniel a photograph of the same card.  That made it through.  Why?

Daniel has told me that some deputies are easier going than others.  The newer ones are stricter with the rules.

I couldn’t help feeling bad for inmates who have young children. Nothing drawn in crayon or marker.   No glitter or glue.

I had another piece of mail returned because I wrote the address with a Sharpie marker.

You know, until I became friends with Daniel, I only bought postage stamps at Christmas time.   I’ve discovered that the USPS has some really cool stamps. Miles Davis stamps.  Barnum and Bailey vintage circus stamps.  Emancipation Proclamation stamps.

I really do try to follow the mail rules.  I find it kind of embarrassing when items get sent back.  Maybe my mail carrier knows about the nipple rule and wonders what kind of contraband I’m sending.  I envision myself chasing after the truck, waving the rejected envelope and yelling, “It was the black paper!”

Even though I know I’m not the only person writing to Daniel, I can’t help worrying that sometimes it might be my fault if he doesn’t get any mail.  As is, he generally sends three or four letters to my one.

And his letters are great!  My favorites include scripts of conversations Daniel’s had with guards and other prisoners, newspaper articles about his own case with penciled comments in the margins, and “kites.”

Yes, I will share some of the best ones with you in future posts.

I try to send him mail that will make him smile.  I include random pictures that entertain me:

A baby turtle on a human thumb.
My dog with his new tequila-bottle shaped chew toy (Dog Julio).
The heavy metal guitar guy from the new Mad Max movie (with flames shooting out of the guitar neck!)

My letters are mostly about my daily life.  You’d be amazed at how interesting a trip to the supermarket can be when you spend twenty three hours a day in a cell.  At least that’s what Daniel tells me.

Sometimes I worry that my stories might be silly compared to his life.

“Yes, there was a long line at Starbucks!”

Free People Problems.

Recently, Daniel asked me for the lyrics to three James Bond songs because someone at the OC jail claimed he could sing these songs if only he had the lyrics.

Sometimes I send “texts.”  Instead of actually sending messages to him throughout a day, I’ll put them in a document and then print it out.

I’ve even sent him print outs of comments left on this blog and the Facebook page.

I use up a lot more printer ink now, but it’s worth it.  Getting letters from me makes Daniel happy.  It improves his day.  It helps him take a mental break from his reality.

And I get to look forward to the mail again.

Crime Scenes Field Trip

We’ve established that I watch a lot of crime shows, but there’s another side to my interest in true crime.  I like playing detective.  When I was a little girl, I read two Nancy Drew books a week (because that’s all we were allowed to take out of the school library).

Thanks to Nancy Drew, I’ve poured over everything I can get my hands on about the Daniel Wozniak case.  Since he hasn’t been to court, there aren’t any trial records.  The only information available to the public comes from the DA’s office, the Sheriff’s department, and the media’s coverage of them both.

If you’re thinking I’m about to tell you I have inside information from the “killer” himself, well, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  Everything he says is recorded and everything he writes is scrutinized (I’ll talk more about jail mail next week).

But, I actually do ask Daniel questions. It’s not that I think he can answer me, it’s that I want him to be aware that I have them. He’s told me that one day he’ll give me all the answers.

We’ll see…

Visiting Some Of the Scenes of the Crimes

From everything I’ve read, I know that there are three main crime scenes associated with this case:

  1. The Costa Mesa apartment complex where Julie Kibuishi was murdered and where Daniel, his fiancé and Sam Herr were neighbors.
  2. The Liberty Theatre on the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.  This is where Daniel allegedly shot Sam twice and then left his body in this building overnight, returning the next day to decapitate him and cut off his arm and hand.  Sam’s torso was left in the theatre.
  3. The El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach.  This was where Sam’s body parts were disposed of.  From what I’ve read, it was during Daniel’s confession that the police obtained information on where to search for Sam’s head and hands.

My friend Matt lives close to the Nature Center.  It’s one of his favorite places,  so he volunteered to show me around when I decided to visit this “scene of the crime” myself.

The Nature Center

The place is big: over one hundred acres of animal and plant sanctuary in the middle of the city.   It’s beautiful.  It’s quiet and peaceful.  For the most part, people seem respectful of others and the surroundings.

We went on a weekday.  Matt says it’s busier on the weekends.  It would have been swarming with people on a beautiful Saturday, like the one on May 22nd, 2010.

The El Dorado Nature Center only has one entrance and exit, and there’s no one checking bags when you come in.  It’s a park.  Even though it has a fence surrounding the grounds, employees told us it has plenty of holes.

Would it be feasible to enter the El Dorado Nature Center from an area other than the main entrance?  Yes.  It wouldn’t be difficult for a person to sneak onto the grounds, hide body parts in any of the densely wooded areas and then exit, probably without being seen or noticed by anyone.

So yeah, that was the constant weird thought going through both our heads as we walked along the two mile path and snapped pictures of squirrels.  I also took shots of a couple areas that seemed particularly plausible dumping grounds.

a wooded section of el dorado park

We didn’t know exactly where Sam’s body parts were found, but we did learn from employees that his parents had visited specifically to be shown those locations.

Imagine being in this serene setting and only being able to feel despair.

When we left, I saw a sign at the exit that I hadn’t noticed when we arrived.

entryway sign at the el dorado nature center
“Welcome to the El Dorado Nature Center. Take only memories, leave only footprints. Enjoy your visit…”


The Joint Forces Training Base

Next, Matt and I headed over to the Joint Forces Training Base, and this is when we started taking some issue with the public story. It didn’t seem like the kind of place a civilian like Daniel could just drive into.

training base front gate
One does not simply drive onto the Joint Forces Training Base!

Maybe Army veteran Sam Herr was with him?  Trouble with that is, it was supposed to be Daniel who asked Sam to help him move some furniture in the theatre on Friday May 22nd.

Even if Daniel did have some kind of all-access pass to this training base, there is still the matter of explaining how two men entered this base, but only one man left.

In 2010, were there no security cameras placed around the base?

Also, not to be too graphic, but where was the blood?

We are supposed to believe that on the afternoon of Friday, May 21st, Daniel and Sam went on the base together, Daniel shot Sam inside a theatre building, and Daniel left by himself… and nobody noticed.

Then, the next day, Daniel allegedly returned, mutilated Sam’s body, and exited the base… taking the body parts with him.

Maybe a person could shoot someone twice, move their body around and manage to avoid getting any blood on themselves.   But would it be possible to cut off the head and arm and hand of a dead body without getting covered in blood?

I just don’t think so.

Maybe Daniel brought a change of clothes.  That would show some scary premeditation.

I’ll be curious to see if those questions get answered during the trial, and  I hope the jury wants to know those answers, too.

What’s that expression?

Oh right… the devil is in the details.