Penalty Phase: The Defense’s Closing Argument

“He will die in custody,” stated defense attorney Scott Sanders during his closing statement in the penalty phase of Daniel Wozniak’s trial. “He deserves the strongest punishment.”

Did I mention that this was the defense?

Here’s the thing: I’m sure Sanders wanted the jury to know they didn’t need to recommend the death penalty. Daniel wasn’t going anywhere and he wouldn’t be a danger to society.

Daniel had no criminal past, and before this he’d never been convicted of a violent crime. Daniel has been a model prisoner during his incarceration. So do these terrible acts represent Daniel as a person, or did he take a horrible detour?

Scott Sanders was very clear. He was not trying to diminish what Daniel did or the suffering he caused to all the people who loved Sam and Julie.

But he did want the jury members to make decisions for themselves and ask “what happened” to Daniel.

Also, Scott Sanders wanted to answer that question: Rachel Buffett happened to Daniel Wozniak.

The Rachel Buffett Question

Is Rachel an integral part of this story? No doubt about it. But is she a reason to commit murder?

When I tell someone about my blog and explain the details of the crime, I end the explanation by saying that, according to the prosecution, all of this happened because Daniel and Rachel were getting married, and he needed to pay for the wedding.

I don’t believe the money motive. You guys know that. But it’s the only one the prosecution gave us.  Technically, that means no wedding equals no murders, right?

Furthermore, Rachel wasn’t just Daniel’s unwitting fiancée, asserted Scott Sanders, she was cruel, conniving and crafty. Sanders wanted the jury to view Rachel as the catalyst. He reminded them of the details about Rachel that came out during the trial:

  • Rachel had a history of causing conflict. She would stir up problems with those around her just for the “thrill of it.”
  • The police do not believe Daniel’s claim that Rachel had no knowledge of the murders.
  • Rachel didn’t tell the police about Chris Williams and how he had loaned them money.
  • Rachel knew there were no “loan sharks,” and that Daniel wasn’t in any danger if he didn’t pay back the money.
  • When questioned by the police, Rachel claimed to still be in fear of loan sharks.
  • Rachel lied to the police about seeing a third man with Daniel and Sam on the day Sam was murdered.
  • Police have testified that they believe Rachel was directly involved in the murders.

Yes, we’d heard all that before, but Scott Sanders did make a couple of new points I found interesting.

The Text Messages Question

First, he talked about those texts sent from Sam’s cell phone to Julie. Sanders scrolled through the texts for the jury and pointed out how their tone and wording changed dramatically as soon as Daniel was home with Rachel. When Daniel was alone, the texts were joking and casual.  He suggested that their only purpose was to make it seem as though Sam was still alive. But when Daniel got home to Rachel, suddenly the texts were about asking Julie to come over. They became serious and emotional.

Interesting point. I hadn’t noticed that before. It sounds like Sanders was saying that Rachel came up with the plan to murder Julie.

The Calendar Question

Scott Sanders also talked about a “calendar problem” with Rachel’s account of the crime:

  • On May 26th,2010 she lied to the police about seeing a third man with Sam and Daniel on the day Sam was killed. Ostensibly this was to help Daniel with his alibi.
  • But on May 27th, Rachel was brought into the police station to hear Daniel’s confession. This was supposedly the first she learned about the murders at all.

Why would she be lying for Daniel if she didn’t yet know Sam was dead?

The Confession Question

Rachel also told the police she was afraid loan sharks, but she knew there were no loan sharks because Chris Williams had told her.  During that confession, Rachel hadn’t seemed shocked or upset, even though she was learning that her fiancé had just confessed to double homicide.

Side note: Scott’s impersonation of Rachel during the confession was hilarious. Here was this super-serious attorney guy trying to sound like… umm… a vapid Barbie doll?

Was Daniel Manipulated?

Scott Sanders wanted the jury to get a different image of Daniel Wozniak. He wasn’t the monster described by the prosecution. Daniel was manipulated.

Rachel was Daniel’s entire life and he would do anything for her. Daniel was going to protect Rachel, and Rachel was going to protect Rachel. So Daniel took the blame for everything.

Daniel had asked that Rachel be brought in to hear his confession so she’d know the story she should stick to. Daniel even made himself look as horrible as possible (claiming that hiding the murders was “borderline fun”), so they would focus on him entirely.

Sanders was telling the jury Rachel is smarter than Daniel, because she didn’t get caught, and she made sure the police would have evidence against Daniel.

Rachel just “walks through the rain drops,” Sanders announced to the jury.

Does Daniel Deserve To Die?

It seemed like Scott Sanders was saying that Daniel Wozniak shouldn’t be given the death penalty because there is good inside him. The murders of Sam and Julie are inexcusable, but Daniel could still be a useful member of society (well… ok… prison society).

Scott Sanders doesn’t think Daniel is the worst of the worst. He reminded the jury about Edward Munoz, who in-spite of having a criminal past, was telling the truth about who Daniel is behind bars. “To me,” Munoz had told the jury when he was on the stand, “he is a good person.”

Scott Sanders spoke plainly: Daniel Wozniak “will never make it up to the families, but don’t we want him to do his best now?”

One Last Push From Prosecutor Matt Murphy

By the way, during Scott Sanders’ entire closing, Matt Murphy still didn’t give up on the “one/one” argument. He was determined to get another opportunity to speak after Sanders’ closing. There was discussion that the jury might have problems recalling the details of the prosecution’s closing.

Scott Sanders did not stop fighting to have the judge stick to his decision to end the trial with the defense’s closing. He pointed out that the prosecution’s opening argument was longer than the defense’s entire case.

Judge Conley continued to reluctantly side in favor of Sanders, but before he could give the final jury instructions, he would see council in his chambers one more time.  Matt Murphy looked pissed when they came back out, and I knew that one “one/one” fight was done.

Finally! That just got annoying, Matt. I’d admire your tenaciousness, but jeez, it was enough already. Trust me – you talked plenty.

The Jury Deliberates

The judge told the jury they needed to have a unanimous decision in order to give Daniel the death penalty.  So, Mike the bailiff escorted them into the deliberation room, and those of us in the courtroom readied ourselves for a long wait.

They were back in less than an hour.

Next…

In the next post, I will tell you what it’s like to watch a jury recommend that your friend be put to death.

9 thoughts on “Penalty Phase: The Defense’s Closing Argument”

  1. Great post, very informative. What’s next for the blog after you finish posting about the sentencing? I’d love to hear more about Daniel’s life in jail and how he feels about his death sentence.

    1. Thank you. I appreciate your comment. The trial is over, but Daniel hasn’t been sentenced yet. There was another delay last week. Daniel is in limbo right now, and California is going to vote on the DP this November. Daniel could even end up being placed in a “regular” prison. I will keep you updated.

  2. I have been wondering why Scott Sanders didn’t bring up the open confession as to ask for mercy. Without Daniel’s open confession the prosecution would have had a much tougher time proving guilt. Did Daniel’s parents take the stand? That would have certainly helped.

    1. They did not take the stand. Daniel didn’t want them to testify. I appreciate you reading the blog. Thank you for the comment.

  3. Best post in a long while.

    I used to frequent rachels brothers bar, one time Rachel was working and she was as cold as ice.

    I believe she played a much bigger role in this, yet why wouldn’t Daniel snitch on her? Is she stringing him along or us he just that loyal.

    I’m an overweight bloke but I did see Rachel flirting with handsome male customers, so she’s definitely sexually active while Daniel languishes away in jail

    1. Thank you very much.
      Rachel did “break up” with Daniel years ago, so I guess she’s a free agent, right?

    1. I visit him at least once a week and we talk on the phone regularly. It probably sounds odd, but sometimes I can forget that I’m talking to someone in jail. I still always ask him about the case. We also talk a lot about the “snitch scandal,” and how it has delayed Daniel’s sentencing. We talk about books. I describe movies I’ve seen. I get to hear about all the comings and going in J Mod. We talk about politics and religion. We talk about the media people and how they would like to talk to him. Our conversations fly by. But the sad reality often hits me when I leave (or hang up). And sometimes I feel kind of guilty about having had such a normal conversation with him.

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