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.

11 thoughts on “Penalty Phase: Detective Jose Morales”

  1. There is something wrong with all this. Rachel knew about Julie’s murder and possibly about Sam’s murder earlier than she said. She is the planner – I don’t see why Daniel continues to protect her. I believe in the success of some who are able to use their psychic ability to see past human activity. I took the information available on Daniel’s case to a local psychic who has an excellent track record. (Believe as you wish….. – from what I was able to check, this psychic is to be considered.)
    The psychic said that Daniel is guilty and Rachel is guilty and that there is another guilty person involved.

    1. I’ll admit that I did not think to consult a psychic, but I’m intrigued. Did the phychic mention who the third guilty party might be?

      1. The 3rd guilty party is Timothy Wozniak Dan’s brother. What do you. All three of these defendants were part of the Costa Mesa Jail phone call that spurred Daniel to confess.

          1. That explains why Daniel can’t say Racheal was involved, because if he does she will spill the beans about Daniels brother Tim’s involvement!!!
            WOW!

  2. I have a few questions for you, as I have been following your blog. First of all, you are an extremely talented story teller and I find your blog posts compelling. I hope you write more, as I think you were a little more prolific in the past. Even if there are are slow “news weeks”, maybe you can shed a little light into your conversations with Daniel and who he is as a person since you visit him so frequently. What is his background? When did he officially cease his relationship with his fiance? Do they have any contact? What does he think of his sentence?

    I will not judge you for being friends with whoever you want to be friends with, and if I felt strongly about it I wouldn’t read your blog. But there have been many comments left by healthcare professionals and others calling Daniel a sociopath. They are saying that as a sociopath, he is playing you and fooling you into thinking you have a friendship. What are your feelings on that? Do you see any truth to that, or do you genuinely believe you have a friendship… or a little of both?

    Also, sometimes you do sound like you’re starstruck. This is not an insult at all, just an observation. One of my friends knew the murderer Christopher Porco in the Albany area and he said that he was treated like a full blown celebrity during his trial. People would try to grossly exaggerate the state of their friendship or acquaintanceship with him just to sound cool. Do you think of Daniel as a local celebrity, or just a regular guy? Are you in love with him?

  3. Is your relationship with Daniel strictly platonic? I realize he’s in jail so obviously I’m not referring to a physical relationship, but do you have romantic feelings for him? Nothing wrong if you do, and even if you did I doubt you’d want to share something so personal with the public. But I’m just curious as it would add another layer to an already intriguing perspective.

    1. Daniel and I have a platonic relationship, but you’re not the first person to ask that. Thanks for for taking time to comment. I do know that he’s had plenty of women write to him in jail.

  4. i’m going to play devil’s advocate again regarding rachel (or perhaps predict what her defence may include);
    – what if she actually believed that chris williams was related to loan sharks and was scared. this would explain her behaviour, her covering up for him, and williams (lying?) making the comment that rachel knew it was nothing to do with a loan shark.
    – i don’t buy this whole line that rachel would definitely have noticed wozniak using sam’s phone. all he has to do is keep it in his pocket and walk into the bathroom every now and then to send a text. easy.

    her early comments about julie’s murder is i think the one area where she is in trouble. other than the question of who exactly relayed that she made these supposed comments and just how credible are they?

    1. Ame, Rachel never believed there was a loan shark and she never thought Chris Williams was connected to loan sharks. You made a contradiction in your statement. Rachel lied and said she did not know who loaned Dan money and that she thought it was a loan shark. The truth was that Chris Williams loaned Dan the money and he was left at the apartment with Rachel to be Rachel’s alibi when Dan took Sam out to murder him.

      Rachel bolstered using Chris as her alibi by searching online for topless jobs when Chris could see Rachel’s searches. Logic suggests that Dan and Rachel wanted Chris to remember being in the apartment with Rachel while Dan killed Sam. The topless job search for a Disney princess would create a memorable moment by being something out of the ordinary.

      You are over-thinking and thinking with intelligence when you describe Dan. Dan did not think with any sort of intelligence. He told the police that used Sam’s older model flip phone to text Julie while Rachel was lying on the sofa next to him, trying to fall asleep. Dan had a smartphone and Rachel could see that Dan was using a flip phone, so it was obvious that Dan was not using his own phone.

      After Dan left the apartment to go kill Julie, Rachel responded to a Facebook post Julie made to her. Julie had posted to Rachel around noon that day, and Rachel responded at 11:10 PM while Julie was being lured to her death. At 11:10 PM the night of the murders, Rachel knew Dan was not in the apartment and Rachel was awake, using Facebook. Dan confessed to killing Julie at that time. These facts contradict what Rachel said about being asleep during Julie’s murder.

  5. Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for the extra information! Did you attend the trial? I was unaware about Wozniak’s statements saying he was next to Rachel using the phone etc. Again though, if he claimed she was ‘falling asleep’, she could use that in her defence – I just don’t think it’s going to cut it as some ‘gotcha’ moment, the whole scenario of her not seeing him with a different phone. It is plausible or reasonable that she wouldn’t notice it (ie either sleeping, or being in a different room). How detailed was he when he described using it in front of her? Was this part of his recorded confession? Is there somewhere online where I can watch the whole thing do you know? In those true crime shows, none of them showed that segment if it was recorded.

    I didn’t contradict myself though in playing devil’s advocate – I was saying, what if she actually believed that Chris Williams was connected to loan sharks and therefore not naming him as the money provider to police was due to fear? If Chris Williams is, then he is hardly going to say to police ‘yes, I’m a loan shark’. Rachel is not going to say ‘Williams lent the money and he’s connected to loan sharks’. If Rachel thinks Williams (and connections) is dangerous and has lent her fiance money, she is going to play dumb so that Wozniak can try to somehow get the money back without either of them getting hurt.

    Like I said, was just being devil’s advocate and/or predicting her defence. When you make comments such as she knew Williams wasn’t a loan shark, and she was using Williams as an alibi etc, is that you as an outsider telling yourself ‘there’s no way she didn’t know’, or is it because you have access to more information that hasn’t been reported on in the papers or any of those crime shows on Youtube?

    I’m asking because I’m dying to know if she’s guilty – at this stage from all the information I can find online there is reasonable doubt. Unless Wozniak starts doing the right thing by the victims’ families (yeah, right!) and gives details, so far everything can be explained. But I’m on the other side of the world! So obviously could not attend the trial, have access to transcripts, don’t know any of the key people involved, and probably only about a quarter of the media ends up online in the long run.

    I hope you can answer, ta in advance!

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