Closing Arguments

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.”

Unanswered Questions

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.

Lunch break!

Final Instructions

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.

15 thoughts on “Closing Arguments”

  1. When a person, any person, refuses to testify, on the ground that it might incriminate him, we, the public, have every right to assume that he is hiding something, and that something is usually: GUILT. Since it was pretty evident from the very beginning that Daniel is guilty (he admitted as much when he was interrogated), what possible motive was behind the decision not to place him on the witness stand? Had he testified, maybe the jury would have seen some human side in him and perhaps they would have spared him the death penalty. But, since he didn’t even speak up for himself, he has only his lawyers and himself to blame for the final outcome

    1. Most defendants in murder cases do not testify on their own behalf and by not doing so improves their chances for a not guilty verdict considerably.

      In other words, your suppositions are wrong.

      1. Please give more info or speculation on Rachel. I’m sure she’s involved, listen to that tape where she’s talking to Daniel on the phone (well then I’m dead, you’re already dead baby)…. reader, can you imagine you or your significant other is admitting to committing a murder and you’re not saying “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SAYING? NO. NO. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WHY? WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO THIS?!”

        You or your significant other would not be at all calm if this was new information to them.

  2. A good prosecutor needs to be found for Rachel’s trial. She lived with Daniel. She loved Daniel. They were engaged to be married. I think we can stretch – Daniel committed these murders for money that they needed for the wedding and honeymoon. I see Rachel as knowing this. She is the quiet one – he obviously still cares for her – he is protecting her. Maybe one day he will change his mind – he would be a nightmare of a witness at her trial. She doesn’t appear to be stupid – she handled the evidence related to Daniel’s guilt very handily. She is as guilty as Daniel.

  3. What is so hard about accepting the motive was financial gain? If not for $$$, then why bother steal from the man’s account? It wasn’t an after thought. People who kill out of passion, anger, jealousy, etc., usually run off and don’t bother stealing cell phones, ATM cards. When robbery or financial gain is the motive, they carry-out the killing and then go after the wallet. Wozniak strikes me as a loser. A guy who wanted to play make believe and when that didn’t pay the rent or honeymoon, it was easy to kill the veteran instead of waiting on tables or some other job beneath him or unworthy of his great talent. Greed. Period.

    1. I completely understand the idea of money being a motive for someone to commit murder – it is one of the most common motives around.
      I just don’t believe how it’s being sold in this case. Killing Julie didn’t cover up anything. It brought in the police and Daniel only ended up taking out $400. I am not saying that Daniel isn’t guilty. I just don’t think that the true story has come out.

  4. Please save Daniel Wozniak from the death penalty!
    I wish him a long incarcerated life to hone his acting skills.
    Forever waking in his prison cell with fellow convicts.
    Each day, assault, rape, and murder await him.
    Please save Daniel Wozniak from the death penalty!
    And pat yourself on the back Scott Sanders and Tracy LeSage,
    you should be proud.

  5. I think you’re dead wrong about it not being for financial gain.
    – $1000 is a lot when you’re behind on rent, have a particular lifestyle to keep up, are way too lazy to actually get a job, think you are some hotshot actor who the public deserve to see AND have a honeymoon to pay for. he knew that money would support his bum lifestyle for at least a while.
    – he probably thought he had longer than 2 days to get cash. he didn’t realise how close sam and his dad were and that julie’s body would be found so quickly. he also clearly isn’t as smart as he thinks ( he BELIEVED that they swabbed him for DNA then came back an hour later and told him his profile was found on the victim? seriously?), and is a lazy arse who probably never had more than $400 in the bank at a time and didn’t realise there was a daily limit.
    – as already stated, he’s not nearly as intelligent as he thinks he is. the (relatively inexperienced when it comes to murder) cops had him tripped up within hours. some genius huh? (mind you, kudos to the cops in this one – they did well, with no trip-ups in relation to accidentally feeding him information and setting up the potential false confession defence – they let him dig his own grave).
    – why would he write a cheque to himself? it would lead police straight to him immediately, he was trying (badly, admittedly – again overestimating his own intelligence) to avoid that. even the dumb crooks know that one.
    – did i mention he’s actually not that smart?
    – as his ‘friend’ I would think you would be hoping it WAS for financial gain. because if it wasn’t, then what was it for? fun?
    – bill, just playing devils advocate here. apparently rachel had just met with wozniak and he told her he was involved with an ATM scam with sam and had ‘fucked up’. she then spoke with his brother who said he had some incriminating evidence, but she still doesn’t know what that evidence is. remember this is the man she is supposed to love and trust. if you look at it in that context, the phone call makes perfect sense. it is simply her saying ‘look, i don’t know what’s happening but i have to report everything to the police’. from that perspective it honestly does make sense. i could even believe her backing wozniak’s story about there being a third person with sam from that perspective (ie just going along with what she was told). i think what works against her and is hard to explain away is her apparently acting all stressed over those nights (hmm although come to think of it, if wozniak told her he was involved in some scam and had fucked up i guess she could also explain that away), and (the BIG ONE) her saying she was worried that her friend julie had been killed.

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