When closing arguments in Daniel’s trial started on December 16, 2015, I was feeling… I guess the best word is anticipatory. The defense had rested the day before after barely questioning the prosecution’s witnesses and calling none of their own. So far Scott Sanders and his team hadn’t put forth much of a defense (at least not in front of the jury), but I figured we were all about to see some fancy-schmancy lawyering now that we were in the closing stretch of the guilt phase.
A Secondary Verdict?
Before the jury was brought back into the courtroom, there was some discussion about the possibility of a secondary verdict. There was an option to find Daniel guilty of second-degree murder instead of first-degree. Like anyone thought that was going to happen.
Then, Scott Sanders brought up something I never would have considered. Some of the camera footage taken during the first days of trial showed Daniel being escorted by deputies into the courtroom, and it was easy to see that he was handcuffed.
If you remember, the jury wasn’t supposed to ever see Daniel in cuffs. Jury members are told to avoid media coverage of the trial, but stuff happens. It wouldn’t be impossible for one of them to accidentally catch a glimpse of that footage on the nightly news.
Judge Conley asked the camera operators to wait until Daniel was seated and no longer handcuffed before they filmed him from now on.
But, HEY JURY MEMBERS! Now that the trial is over, I would LOVE to talk to you. I have a few thousand questions I’d like to ask you. Let’s start with: Did you know that Daniel was incarcerated during the trial?
Matt Murphy’s Closing Argument
When the jury was brought in, the judge explained that the “party with the burden of proof” gets to speak first and last. This meant that Matt Murphy would get a rebuttal after the defense finished its closing argument – like a Scott Sanders sandwich.
Matt started off by telling the jury that during this, the guilt phase of the trial, they are only responsible for deciding if Daniel Wozniak broke the law. Did he commit murder and was it a calculated decision to kill? This was a time for a sterile examination of the facts. This was not the time to consider punishment. Was he guilty of first degree murder?
Murphy then went on to remind the jury of the “cornucopia of evidence” in this case (Thanksgiving of murder?). He said that the amount of evidence was so overwhelming, he wished he “could borrow” some of it for his other cases.
(“Oh, Matt. You jokester.” Slaps own knee.)
I’ll tell you something, if someone hurt me or one of my loved ones, I would want Matt Murphy to prosecute them. You know what I’m sayin?
That black backpack alone easily connected Daniel to Sam’s murder. Daniel’s DNA and Sam’s blood were all over Sam’s personal items found in the bag.
Matt talked about how the evidence didn’t need to eliminate all possible doubt, though, because everything in life is open to some possible or imaginary doubt.
Murphy didn’t have to prove who made the implicating Google searches found on the computer in Daniel and Rachel’s apartment. The searches themselves were “very powerful evidence.”
He admitted that there were still some unanswered questions. Like: how did Daniel get Sam’s PIN number? The prosecution didn’t know, but Murphy said it was okay for the jury to just “guess” a way that Daniel could have acquired it. He suggested that Daniel had glanced over Sam’s shoulder at some point when Sam was taking out money.
My guess… I think Sam willingly gave his PIN to someone he trusted.
Murphy told the jury that Daniel had started working on his murderous “plan” months before the killings took place. That was why Daniel reconnected with Wesley (ATM kid). But during Wesley’s testimony, questions came up about when this all took place. Not all of the answers Wesley gave worked with the prosecution’s timeline. So during his closing, Murphy suggested that the teen was probably just confused.
Money The Real Motive?
Even though the prosecution is not obligated to provide a motive, Matt Murphy knew exactly what the motive was in this case: money.
Daniel was in debt. On the PowerPoint, Murphy showed two overdrawn bank accounts. The thing is, the total was under a $1000. Yup, that’s not a typo. I didn’t forget a zero. And because Daniel was estranged from his family, he had no one to help him with the $1000. Also, he’d recently gotten a DUI (incurring more debt).
And the most crucial need for money: Daniel and Rachel’s impending wedding / honeymoon.
Side note – On Dateline, Rachel said her parents were traditional and they were planning to pay for the wedding. So that expense was actually covered.
Matt Murphy wondered, if Daniel needed money so desperately, why didn’t he just stick to “good old identity theft?” That is a good question, MM!
Hey, I just realized that Matt Murphy and Murder Musings have the same initials.
Here’s why I don’t believe the “murder for financial gain” motive:
First, Daniel had to know that it would take some time to clean out Sam’s bank account, especially if he was planning to do it by maxing out an ATM every day. I would think that Daniel would want as much time as possible, so as to collect as much money as possible. But Daniel didn’t have any time, because the police started looking for Sam right away.
Why did they start looking for Sam? It wasn’t because his father was worried about him. The police wanted to find Sam because Julie’s body was in his apartment. That brought them into this case immediately. And that didn’t help Daniel’s plan.
Also, Daniel had Sam’s checkbook and credit cards. Why weren’t they used? Why didn’t he just forge a check to himself and get a much larger sum than the $400 ATM limit?
And seriously, that amount of debt was so paltry. It’s certainly not insurmountable. Get a job. Come up with a creative sign and panhandle on the offramp. Hell, you could probably make $1000 selling plasma and semen.
But, in his confession, Daniel said he did it for the money. So that must be the motive, right?
Matt Murphy finished up his closing with a PowerPoint list and a restating of the evidence against Daniel. Then it was all wrapped up in Daniel’s confession. The one where he finally stopped lying and told the true story… right?
Hey blog-reading juror: how important was that confession to you guys? Would you still have found him guilty without it?
The Defense’s Closing Argument
The prosecution finished and I got myself ready to watch Scott Sanders jump into action. What was he going to say? Was there any possible defense? Would there be a Perry Mason moment?
Spoiler alert – there wasn’t.
That is when Daniel’s other lawyer, assistant defense attorney Tracy LeSage, stood up to address the jury. Well, I did not see that one coming. Why wasn’t the man Daniel calls “Fearless Leader” taking the lead here?
I started coming up with theories in my head. Maybe the defense team thought Tracy would be more likable than Scott. Perhaps Scott was saving his energy for the penalty phase. Did he have a sore throat and no one offered him a Ricola? I don’t know.
The soft-spoken LeSage put forth a very simple request to the jury: Try to see the whole picture. She wanted them to really study the facts. Tracy said that nothing in life is black and white. She just wanted them to keep an open mind. That was the gist of it, and she was done.
Matt Murphy made one last comment. It was some kind of analogy about Daniel driving a car. Sorry, my notes are sketchy on this part. I was getting hungry.
Judge Conley gave the jury final instructions before they started their deliberations. One point he made was that they were to ignore that Daniel did not testify. They shouldn’t guess or assume any reasons for this.
Unfortunately, I think most of us believe that if a person doesn’t testify, he’s guilty? I’m sure that Daniel and the defense team are well aware of that.
Then, the jury was ushered into the deliberation room by Deputy Mike (who is a really nice guy by the way). I think everyone knew that a guilty verdict wouldn’t be long in coming.
And I think that EVERYONE in the room agreed that Daniel was guilty of something.
I’ll be digging into the penalty phase of the trial next. I’m also planning a post of my thoughts and reactions to that Dateline episode.