Penalty Phase: Detective Jose Morales

When I learned Detective Jose Morales would be the last witness called by Daniel’s defense team, I was particularly curious to find out how one of the lead detectives against Daniel was now supposedly going to help him.

I knew we weren’t going to get some kind of bombshell moment. Things like that happen during the guilt phase of a trial, and I didn’t expect Det. Morales to say anything that would call Daniel’s guilt into question. At this point, Scott Sanders was just trying to save Daniel Wozniak’s life.

During the guilt phase of the trial, Lead Detective Lt. Ed Everett made it abundantly clear he believes Daniel’s former fiancée, Rachel Buffett, should be facing the same murder charges as Daniel.

However, during Det. Morales’ time on the stand, Scott Sander’s didn’t ask any questions about Rachel during his cross-examination.

Still, I was anticipating a, “hey look over there at Rachel Buffett” approach now that we were in the penalty phase.

I was right.  First thing out of the gate was a question about Rachel’s own police interview.  Det. Morales was asked if he’d been part of Rachel’s questioning.  He had.

Rachel, Rachel, Rachel…

In fact, Detective Morales interviewed Rachel many times between 2010 – 2012.  I got the impression that he doesn’t have the same access to Rachel now.  Maybe a lawyer put the kibosh on her talking to the police?

…On When She Found Out About Julie

During questioning, Rachel had been repeatedly asked when she had found out about Julie’s murder. She always claimed to have learned about Julie death when everyone else did: after Steve Herr found her body in Sam’s apartment on May 22.

But Detective Morales confronted Rachel with the fact that there had been people at the theatre who’d heard Rachel speak about Julie’s murder earlier on that weekend.

…On What She Knew About Daniel’s Money Problems

During his testimony, Det. Morales revealed that Rachel lied to the police about her knowledge of Daniel’s money issues. She’d claimed not to know who’d loaned Daniel money.  She thought he’d borrowed from a loan shark and that Daniel was afraid of “having his legs broken” if he didn’t pay it back.

Scott Sanders led Det. Morales to tell the jury that he’d confronted Rachel. He knew it was Chris Williams who loaned money to Daniel, and he knew she knew. Why did Rachel not tell the police about Chris Williams loaning money to Daniel? Early in the investigation, Rachel stuck to the story that some “bad people” were involved in loaning Daniel money and Rachel was afraid of them.

In a 2012 interview, Rachel told the police that she’d kept Chris Williams’ identity a secret in order to protect his name.  But during Williams own testimony, he told the jury that Rachel knew there were no loan sharks.  So why had Rachel lied to the police about having a fear of them?

Scott Sanders questioned Det. Morales about Chris Williams’ cell phone movements on the day of Sam’s murder.  Williams left Rachel and Daniel’s apartment soon after Daniel, having just murdered Sam, arrived home that day. The jury was reminded that Rachel called Chris Williams not long after he left the apartment, and she was very upset, but didn’t say why.

…On Internet Use

Next, Det. Morales was questioned about the timing of internet activity at Daniel and Rachel’s apartment that day. I think the purpose of this was to show that Rachel was online when Daniel wasn’t home.

Scott Sanders didn’t link this to any of the incriminating searches that were used as evidence during the guilt phase. So why is it important that she was on the computer when Daniel wasn’t home? Oh, and by the way, the reason the police know Daniel wasn’t home: because that was when Sam was being murdered.

More Red Flags

Detective Morales had other suspicions about Rachel:

  • Rachel originally said she didn’t know what time she went to bed on the night of Julie’s murder. But later, she gave an exact time.
  • Rachel signed on to Daniel’s Facebook account during the weekend of the murders. He didn’t seem to believe her when she said this was common for her to do.
  • Rachel claimed she didn’t notice Daniel using a flip phone to send texts to Julie on the night she was murdered, even though Daniel owned a smart phone.
  • Some of those texts were “eerily similar” to statements Rachel made to the police during interviews.

Why All The Attention On Rachel Buffett?

So what was the point of all this, and did we learn anything new? At one point it was mentioned Daniel had made three calls to Rachel from jail (only one was played for the jury). I don’t think I knew that before, but I don’t know if it’s important, either.

I think Scott Sanders was trying to remind the jury that the police have doubts about Rachel. What did she know and when did she know it? Did she help cover up Sam’s murder? Was she directly involved in Julie’s murder?

And was any of it going to make a difference in determining Daniel’s fate?

When it was Matt Murphy’s turn to cross-examine Detective Morales, it felt like Murphy was giving Morales the opportunity to finish his sentences… as though Scott Sanders had been cutting him off.

I liked that little twist where a prosecution witness was now being cross-examined by the prosecutor – even if it did feel like they were still on the same side.

Murphy wanted to clear up any question the jury might have about the charges against Rachel Buffett. She is accused of lying to the police and being a murder accessory after the fact. Murphy asked Morales if he had anything to indicate that Rachel was involved with the planning of either murder. The answer was no.

Det. Morales was questioned about some of Daniel and Rachel’s computer searches. But they weren’t incriminating, so I’m not sure of the point of bringing them up.  They were all seemingly related to wedding and honeymoon planning: party rentals, cruise ship information, and Sandals Resort in Mexico. The searches were all done on Daniel’s laptop, not on the shared desktop.

That sounds like Daniel was doing a lot of the planning, but on Dateline, Rachel said he wasn’t interested or involved with the wedding plans.  I think either she or Josh Mankiewicz referred to him as a “typical guy.”

Detective Morales admitted that he doesn’t buy Daniel’s confession story, but pointed out that Daniel has always maintained that Rachel had nothing to do with the murders of Sam and Julie.

Det. Morales personally believes that Daniel told Rachel about the murder of Sam and the two of them planned to cover up Sam’s murder by killing Julie.  His theory is that Rachel had knowledge but she did not participate.

Matt Murphy was quick to point out that no matter what Det. Morales believed, there’s no proof that Rachel did anything but “echo Daniel’s lies.”

That was the end of it.  There would be no more witnesses and the jury was told to report the following Tuesday at 9 AM to hear the closing arguments.

In the next post: the beginning of Matt Murphy’s closing arguments. Matt and Scott Sanders each spoke for about six hours.  I have lots of notes.

Penalty Phase: Daniel’s Character Witness

We were down to the last two defense witnesses, including a character witness, and I don’t know if it would have been possible to find individuals on more opposite ends of the justice spectrum.

The first was Daniel Munoz, who met Daniel Wozniak when they were housed together at the Orange County Jail Intake and Release Center. They were like next-door neighbors… only in cells. The other defense witness was one of the lead detectives on the case: Det. Jose Morales of the Costa Mesa PD.

The Character Witness: Daniel Munoz

Okay, I’m going to admit it: my first reaction to seeing Munoz on the stand was, “WTF?” (I actually wrote that in my notes.)

I mean, I’m Daniel Wozniak’s friend, but no, I did not have an immediate positive reaction to Mr. Munoz being the one character witness the defense decided to put on the stand.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not badmouthing Munoz as a person, but him having a rap sheet as long as my arm probably didn’t do much to impress the jury. Matt Murphy made quick work of besmirching Munoz’s reputation during his cross-examination.

For me, it ended up being rather ironic, because when Daniel Munoz described our friend Daniel Wozniak, it didn’t sound much different from how I would describe him.

He told the jury that everybody liked Daniel Wozniak and he was always willing to help anyone who needed it. Daniel Wozniak was cheerful, honest, and generous.  He would share anything he had.  Daniel Wozniak never got into any fights. He never got angry or confrontational with anyone. Munoz even credited Daniel Wozniak for helping him get his own life back on track when he helped Munoz find religion.

Yes, I know the “finding religion” business is a prison cliché, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be true.  God and religion are very important in Daniel Wozniak’s life, so it doesn’t surprise me that these topics would come up in conversation. 

Munoz told the jury how you meet a lot of different types of people when you’re in jail. It seemed like he was saying this life experience gave him an ability to be a good judge of character.

It’s not as illogical an argument as it might sound. Making friends in jail must have its challenges, and the inmates in Orange County are even more wary after all the information that came out in the past year.

Oh, and Munoz also said that even the deputies at the Orange county jail like Daniel Wozniak.

This is actually true. I’ve seen it. He gets along really well with the deputies. He doesn’t cause trouble. He doesn’t get write-ups. He’s basically a model prisoner.

Cross-Examining Daniel Munoz

Matt Murphy’s cross of Munoz went exactly how I expected. There was a lot of talk about Munoz’s criminal record. Murphy asked questions about Munoz’s tattoos, suggesting that Daniel Wozniak might have been afraid of Munoz because he looked scary and had a bunch of “prison tats.”

 Matt Murphy, that just seems like a nonsensical argument considering the large proportion of inmates who have ink.  Tattoos are pretty common these days, both in prison and in “the real world.” I have seventeen myself.  Daniel Wozniak is probably one of the only inmates  without any tattoos.

 I wonder if any of the jury members have tattoos..?

Determined to discredit Daniel Munoz as a character witness, Matt Murphy hammered away at Munoz’s criminal record, to the extent that at one point Munoz even complained to the prosecutor, “You’re making me feel like I’m on trial here.”

Oh yeah? Try writing a blog about Daniel Wozniak…

When it was time for Scott Sanders to re-cross, he asked Munoz if there was benefit in coming to testify for Daniel Wozniak.  No, there wasn’t.  No deals were made. Munoz just insisted on testifying because he wanted to show the jury another side to Daniel Wozniak… the side he knows… the same side I know.

Why Didn’t I Testify?

That brings us to a question I’ve been asked more than once: Why didn’t I testify for my friend?

I’m an upstanding member of society; wouldn’t my opinion mean something to the jury?

My answer is: if I had been asked, I would have.  Daniel didn’t want those close to him to testify.

My personal gut feeling is that Scott Sanders might have wanted to call Daniel’s parents or other relatives to the stand.  Aside from me, Daniel has numerous people who are still close to him. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there were other people willing to testify on Daniel’s behalf.

That didn’t happen, though, and I’m pretty sure it was because Daniel wanted to spare his friends and loved ones from being cross-examined.

More questions for any jury members who are reading this:

  1. What did you think of Daniel Munoz’s testimony?
  2. Did you wonder why no one else testified for Daniel’s character?
  3. Would it have made any difference to you if there had been other character witnesses?

Coming Up: Detective Jose Morales

It was an interesting choice to call one of the CMPD officers in charge of the entire case as the last defense witness.

During the penalty phase, when the prosecution called Detective Morales to the stand he was mostly questioned about locations related to the crime.  He’d shown the spots on a map. Morales was also the officer who took the photos of the texts on Julie Kibuishi’s phone, the ones displayed during the guilt phase.

At that point in the trial, Scott Sanders didn’t even cross-examine Det. Morales when he was on the stand.

Now, the officer would be the final witness in an attempt to convince the jury not to execute Daniel.

I was intrigued.

That testimony will be up next on DWIMF.

Penalty Phase: The Defense Witnesses

In the last post, we started day two of the penalty phase and saw the last of the prosecution witnesses. We left off with the moving testimony of June Kibuishi, the mother of murder victim Julie. When June’s testimony was finished, the jury was allowed to take a break.

When the jury was brought back into the courtroom, it was time for the very first defense witness of the entire trial.

Krystin Bergamasco

It didn’t take long to realize that the defense wanted to show the jury that maybe Daniel Wozniak wasn’t a cold, calculating mastermind who committed double murder on his own.

Since the guilt portion of the trial was long over, Scott wasn’t trying to convince anyone that his client was innocent.

But if the DA didn’t have the true story, and if Daniel didn’t do everything he was accused of doing, did he deserve the death penalty?  If Daniel Wozniak was influenced, cajoled, and, most importantly, assisted, then maybe he didn’t cook up this premeditated and confusing scheme to commit murder for money.

Two innocent people were dead, and Scott was not denying Daniel’s involvement in their murders. But now the defense was going to point a finger in another direction: directly at Daniel’s fiancée at the time, Rachel Buffett.

If the jury was going to believe that Rachel could be directly involved in the murders, then the defense had to paint her as both dangerous and manipulative. Enter, stage left: Rachel’s friend and fellow thespian, Krystin.

Around 2006, Krystin and Rachel were both students at Long Beach City College when they were cast in the play Antigone.  When asked if Rachel was well liked, Krystin said no, and that everyone actually avoided Rachel whenever possible.  She described Rachel as “very narcissistic, cold, calculating,” and willing to “do anything to get what she wants.”

Krystin Bergamasco told of an incident where Rachel set up a situation to embarrass another acquaintance just for fun.

Rachel was dating a guy named Kyle Ruebel (we’ll hear from him later).  Another actress in their theatre community was unaware of the relationship between Kyle and Rachel. Unfortunately, she confided in Rachel that she had a crush on Kyle.  According to Krystin’s story, Rachel convinced the other girl to admit her feelings to Kyle. The young woman was humiliated when Kyle admitted to already being in a relationship with Rachel.

Why would Rachel do this? Because she “loved the attention,” explained Krystin.

This might all seem a little “high school mean girl,” but Scott wanted the jury to see that Rachel had a history of spinning webs and being cruel just for sport. And when Krystin told of a conversation between the two of them while headed to Starbucks one day, it made sense why she felt the need to talk to the Costa Mesa Police about Rachel after she learned of the murders of Sam and Julie.

Rachel and Krystin had been talking about auditions for an upcoming production of the Greek tragedy Media.  While discussing two of the central themes of the play, revenge and murder, Rachel asked Krystin a rather odd question.

She wanted to know, “if you could murder someone, and you knew you could get away with it, would you?”  Krystin replied that she would definitely not murder someone.

You guys already know where this is going, right?

Rachel, however, said she would murder someone if she could get away with it, and Krystin believed that her friend was not kidding around.

This event stayed with with Krystin, and after she found out about the murders, she sat down and wrote four pages of notes (to “keep herself organized”) and headed to the police station to let them know they should be looking carefully at Rachel Buffett.

So, not only was Krystin Bergamasco the first defense witness, she was also the first witness to be cross-examined by Matt Murphy.  He didn’t spend much time questioning her.  He asked if she had any hard evidence to prove that Rachel was involved in the murders.  She said no.  That seemed sufficient for Matt to make his point that proving Rachel is mean isn’t quite the same as having DNA evidence or fingerprints.

Side note: So far, I have yet to speak with a theatre person who liked Rachel.  All the people I’ve met who worked with her describe her the same way Krystin did.  But hey, if anyone reading this knows her personally and actually likes her, I would be very interested in hearing about a different side of Rachel. 

Kyle Ruebel

The next defense witness was Rachel’s boyfriend in 2008 / 2009.

With the previous witness, Scott Sanders painted Rachel as a callous narcissist. Now, it was time to show her manipulative, law-breaking side.

Kyle talked about how he often witnessed Rachel stealing from stores at Disneyland (where she and Kyle worked) and how she would convince her younger cousin, Rebecca, to steal with her.  Rachel would defend her actions with the explanation, “they don’t care. It’s a million dollar business.”

Ummm, more like billions, but that doesn’t make it right, Rachel.

Scott Sanders asked Kyle how he felt about Rachel’s stealing.  He said it rubbed him the wrong way, but he’s a passive guy, so he didn’t say anything.

During his cross-examination, Matt Murphy wanted to know if Rachel had ever tried to convince Kyle to break the law.  He said not really, and he pointed out that “you make your own decisions,” and it doesn’t matter if your girlfriend tries to talk you into doing something.

Matt also asked Kyle if being immature, “makes you a criminal mastermind.”

Good one, Matt.  I’m not sure what makes Kyle an expert on this topic, but I’m guessing it was more of a rhetorical question.

Then back to Scott. Why did Rachel and Kyle break up? He said she was manipulative and she caused problems with his friends. She also bragged to him about having sex with another man because she was trying to “egg (him) on” to get into a fight over her (it didn’t work).

I think Matt Murphy got in the last word, though. He asked if these Rachel stories had anything to do with Daniel Wozniak. Kyle said nope, and that was it.

So, did Scott Sanders make his point with these two witnesses?  And what was his point?

Neither of these witnesses said anything that would cause the jury to doubt Daniel’s guilt, but this wasn’t the guilt phase. Maybe throwing a little shade Rachel’s way might cause them to wonder if she had some influence over Daniel’s actions?  That wouldn’t make him innocent, but perhaps they could see him as “life without the possibility of parole” guilty.

Side note – at no point in this trial did the prosecution put forth anyone from Daniel’s pre-Rachel past who had anything bad to say about pre-Rachel Daniel.  

We have two more defense witnesses, and closing arguments, coming up in future posts.