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.