Get Caught Up On The Daniel Wozniak Case

Daniel’s trial is fast approaching and I thought it would be a good idea to give you all a chance to catch up on what has been happening in the case for the past five and a half years. Here is a chronological list of story links to show how we got to where we are today:

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?”

These Are a Few of My Least Favorite Things…

I’ll admit it. The majority of what I write about Daniel does have a tendency to show his “decent side.”  I don’t do that to sway anyone’s opinions about him. I’m just writing about my own personal interactions.

That doesn’t mean that I’m blind to his possible dark side.  It’s not a side I personally see, but I’m cautiously aware that it may exist. I probably even unconsciously look for it.  Normally I don’t go searching for faults in my friends.  Most of us let the negative things slide when we like someone.

Unfortunately, I can’t just see Daniel as a regular guy. There are aspects of his personality that I’d likely ignore in one of my “free friends,” but Daniel doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt for anything, does he?

Here is what I can’t forget or ignore:

He’s cocky: Orange County theatre is rife with cocky actors, but it bothers me when Daniel lets the world see this side of him—especially in court!  The man cheerfully bounces into the courtroom. He even sometimes smirks or scoffs at some of the proceedings.  Keep in mind that there are plenty of laughable comments being made, but he’s not allowed to react to them. I’m guessing he believes that people will hate him no matter how he behaves.  I still think it makes a difference.

He’s vague: OK, I can’t actually hold that one against him. There is no blogger/blogee privilege.  Still, it’s nerve-wracking to converse with someone who has to be so careful about everything he says.  It limits a person’s abilities to trust and connect.

He can appear to be insensitive: Whether he’s guilty or not, he should respect the pain felt by the victims’ families.  He doesn’t come off as empathetic, even though I think he is very much so.  This case has been going on for over five years now, and Daniel is being scrutinized… constantly… by everyone.  Maybe he’s just become numb to it all, but I don’t think the victims’ families would accept that as a reason for not showing sympathy.

His favorite band is The Dan Band: Yeah… his taste in music is limited to say the least. Also, he does like that his name is in the band’s name. ‘Nuff said.

He sometimes has that “smartest guy in the room” attitude: I will acknowledge that he is very smart. Of course, it wouldn’t be difficult to feel like a Mensa member where he’s living.  He has learned a tremendous amount about the law during his incarceration and in another life, he might have made a great lawyer. But I worry that he might underestimate people sometimes. He has a lot of confidence in himself, but I’m not sure how he’s going to fare when dealing with the Orange County DA’s office.

He may have killed two people: I am not taking this lightly.  The Daniel I know is a good guy.  He’s kind and generous.  He’s smart, funny, and an interesting conversationalist. I like that guy.  But I don’t ever forget that he might be an actual murderer.  I’m not talking about an accident… this isn’t just a bar fight gone horribly wrong. Daniel is accused of some sickening and inhuman acts.  Did he kill a war veteran?  Did he decapitate and dismember his body?  Did he murder a completely unsuspecting and innocent young woman in order to frame the other victim?  Did he do all these things just to steal money for a fancy wedding?  I sure hope not. The questions are never far from my mind and sometimes I even feel a little guilty about that.

I’m sure there will be some readers who ask me why I even bother. No one is forcing me to have this relationship OR to write about it.  But he’s interesting and obviously I like a lot about him too.  It wasn’t in my original plan to have genuine friendship with Daniel, but I do now.  And blog or no blog – that won’t change.

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.