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!

When the Opposite of Freedom Rings

I have never been a huge fan of talking on the telephone.  I would much rather communicate by text or email. I guess it’s because the written word is more controllable. It’s difficult for me to explain my telephone anxiety.  It doesn’t help that I have always been plagued by ear infections and allergies. I worry that I will miss-hear something during a phone call.

Unfortunately Daniel isn’t textable. I can’t email him, either. We write letters.

I don’t always have the time to write a real letter.  When I do, I may not remember to share my knowledge that “Tapatio is delicious on soy chicken tacos,” which is something I might tell a friend in a quick text.

So I decided to give phone calls with Daniel a chance. Also, I was curious to see how the whole jail phone call thing worked, and I wanted to be able to ask Daniel questions and not wait weeks for the answers.

First, you have to set up a pre-paid calling account. Inmates have to call collect. I don’t mind, but I do know that many inmates never talk to friends or family on the phone because of the expense.  The charges — which can be as much as twenty five cents per minute plus two or three dollars in services fees just for making the call or adding money to your account — can really add up.

Daniel can only call someone during his day room time.  Day room schedules change daily, so there’s so set time when he’s out of his cell. One day it might be nine PM and another, it might be seven AM.  If the deputies are following the predictable schedule, Daniel usually has a general idea when he’ll be out the next day.

Inmates sometimes trade day room times for various reasons. Often this has to do with the schedules of the people they want to call.  Daniel is fully aware that I am not answering a jail call when I’m picking up the school carpool.

In spite of the scheduling difficulties, we usually have a chance to talk on the phone four or five times a week.  The calls normally last about forty five minutes, the time limit on calls at the OC Jail. That’s actually pretty generous, since most California prisons have a fifteen minute limit.

I’m usually sitting in my back yard when I’m talking to Daniel on the phone. That’s where I have the best cell reception. It’s quiet and peaceful and the complete opposite of what I can hear on the other end of the line.

Ghetto Texting

There is no forgetting that I’m talking to someone in jail. From the moment I answer the phone, I am reminded.  A recorded female voice tells me that this is a collect call from an “inmate at the Orange County Central Jail Complex,” and I can refuse the call by hanging up or by pressing the number one. I’m not sure why anyone would bother pressing one.  I press zero to accept.

Then the recorded voice is back, reminding me that this isn’t a regular phone call because it’s “subject to monitoring and recording.” Right before we can start talking, the voice thanks us for using Global Tellink (as though there had been a choice).

When we first started talking on the phone, there was a slightly different system in place, with which the inmates could record a greeting at the beginning of each call. I should have heard that recorded message saying I was receiving a call from “Daniel Wozniak.”

However, many inmates used this system as sort of a way to “ghetto text,” as they called it.

Let’s say an inmate was calling his mom and didn’t want her to incur the expense of the collect call. In that situation, the recording might say that she is receiving a call from “I love you mom and I hope you’re okay.” Then Mom could get to hear her son’s voice and then hang up.  No charge.

Sometimes if Daniel had attempted to call a couple of times and I didn’t answer, he would assume that I couldn’t talk right then. So he’d call back one more time and “leave a message” telling me that he will probably have dayroom at a specific time the next day, and he’d try back then.

I’m not sure if the OC deputies figured this out, or if Global Tellink realized it might be losing some money, but one day the system changed. Without warning, the recorded greeting became a permanent greeting. Whatever the inmate happened to record on the first new system phone call became his greeting for every phone call from then on.

I’ve heard that some were sweet greetings to family and love ones. Some greetings are along the lines of, “hey bitch, pick up the damn phone.”

Daniel’s permanent greeting is to me, from the day he recorded. “Hey there, Blue Hair.”

And that’s what greets his lawyer or anyone else he calls from now on. It makes me laugh every time.

During A Jail Phone Call

While Daniel and I are shooting the breeze about books we’ve read, movies we like, TV shows we watch, there are constant interruptions.

The most common is the “lock down.” Because he’s in the Protective Custody unit, inmates must be locked in their cells whenever another inmate is being moved. It’s kind of funny, because Daniel is friends with all the other PC inmates, so there’s no real danger of conflict.  I get it though. Rules are rules.

There’s also lots of background noise.  Deputies on speakers. Static from the TV that is right over the telephones. Yelling inmates. It might be a crazy J-Cat who is scream-swearing just to piss people off. But normally, it’s just excitement over a football game. There are even a couple of guys who yell down to him to say hello me.

I actually don’t mind talking on the phone to Daniel. Our conversations flow easily.  We discuss politics and philosophy and religion. We also talk about regular “how was your day” kind of stuff. If he went to court that day, then I want all the details before I read them in the paper. I ask questions. I ask lots of questions. He tells me honestly when he just can’t answer them.  And that happens all the time. But I have to try,  right?

We laugh a lot. We tell each other stories of our childhoods. His was much more stable and normal than mine. I can’t help wondering how his life went the direction it did. Why do I live in a nice house and he lives in the Big House?

At forty four minutes, the recorded voice interrupts to tell us that there is one minute left before the call will automatically be disconnected.

The last minute is always weird because you know that you’re about to be cut off. But you talk until it happens and try to time  your goodbye accordingly. I’m bad at it. I’m usually in the middle of a sentence and it always feels like a half written P.S. at the end of a letter.

I think I’ll miss our forty five minute phone calls.  I really do not know if Daniel is completely guilty or not. However, I will be very surprised if this trial goes his way.  I suspect that soon he’ll be in prison… possibly on death row, and that means we’ll only be able to talk for 15 minutes.