Penalty Phase: The Prosecution’s Closing Argument Part Two

District Attorney Matt Murphy was half-way through his closing argument in the penalty phase of Daniel Wozniak’s trial. He had thoroughly pondered, then criticized, what he hoped would be Scott Sanders’ defense. He’d written off the testimonies of defense witnesses, negated Rachel Buffett’s importance in the murders and reviewed the prosecution’s case against Daniel in his effort to remind the jury why Daniel should be put to death.

One of Murphy’s prime points: So many people were hurt by the murders of Sam and Julie. Lives were changed forever.

Many Different Kinds of Victims

Murphy brought up Wesley Frielich, the young man Daniel persuaded to take money out of Sam’s account using his ATM card. Wesley didn’t actually testify during the penalty phase of Daniel’s trial, but the prosecution didn’t want the jury to forget about this young and impressionable kid who had his life changed because he trusted Daniel Wozniak.  Wesley went from having no criminal record to having the FBI handcuff him on his front lawn.

Next, Murphy wanted to talk about Sam’s friend Lester James McKinney, and how he and Sam had been friends since they were teens.

A Challenge From Scott Sanders

That’s when Scott Sanders asked Judge Conley for a sidebar.

I heard a few scoffs from members of Sam and Julie’s families who appeared annoyed at Sanders for delaying matters.  People looked at each other with confused expressions. Was Scott Sanders actually objecting to a victim impact statement from one of Sam’s closest friends? No. The problem here for Sanders was the portrayal of Sam Herr as a loyal and trustworthy friend.

Just as Matt Murphy’s sticking point was not getting to speak last in the penalty phase, Scott Sanders had his own issue he wouldn’t let go.  He was still determined to have the jury hear about Sam’s past with his own murder trial.

Sanders didn’t think it was acceptable to paint teenage Sam as a good guy. He wanted to call witnesses who would talk about Sam lying to a close friend and leading that man to his death. Judge Conley explained that Lester McKinney would only be describing how he himself “saw Sam,” so there was no need for the jury to hear any witnesses that would contradict that image.

Matt Murphy then tried to remind the jury about Chris Williams and how emotionally scarring it was for him to be involved in this case. Scott Sanders objected to Williams’ victim impact being referenced since Williams didn’t actually testify during the penalty phase (neither did Wesley, actually). But Sam’s friend Miles Foltz, who had testified, got to tell the jury that Sam was everyone’s best friend.

Then there was Julie Kibuishi, who Matt Murphy called, “the victim who did not have to die.”

(Sorry to be nitpicky, but obviously neither or these victims had to die.)

Murphy added that Julie was a daughter, sister, dancer and friend, but Daniel Wozniak only saw her as a decoy. He lured Julie to her death on the same night he sang and danced on stage.

The demonized image of Daniel Wozniak was the last one Murphy wanted the jury to remember.  The Daniel who described Julie as the “God dammed body” at one point, and who planned this intricate plot to rob and murder, was a cold-blooded killer and betrayer of friends.

Matt Murphy ended his closing and hoped he’d covered all the bases. Was there anything Scott Sanders would bring up that Murphy hadn’t effectively already shut down? In the next couple of posts, I’ll be giving you the details of Scott Sander’s closing argument. Will he be able to sway the jury to choose life in prison instead of death?

Spoiler alert: No.

But he sure did put in a valiant effort.

Coming Soon…

I’m almost finished with the detailed trial coverage. My apologies to anyone who doesn’t find the minutiae of the case as interesting as I do, but I’m betting some of you are fellow trial junkies who binge watched The Making of a Murderer, too.

Why So Much Detail on the Trial?

And maybe, it feels “safe” to focus so much on the trial specifics. I was genuinely surprised by the large quantity, and the severity, of negative comments I received on social media just because I’m friends with Daniel.

Sometimes I’m a little nervous about putting too much of myself in my writing. After all, people can’t hold it against me if I’m just re-telling what happened in the courtroom, right? Also, if I post everything I’m thinking in the blog, what will be left to put in a book?

An Orange County Judicial Scandal Could Prompt More Delays

Last week, Daniel’s sentencing was postponed for the second time.  A new date will be set in June. This happened because the Orange County snitch scandal has been heating up again.

Through a completely separate case, another lawyer came across some informant notes that had Daniel’s name all over them. The DA’s office claims they didn’t even know about the existence of these notes.

(So, why would the OC Sherrif’s Office even collect informant notes if they aren’t for the District Attorney to aid in prosecution?)

Daniel and Scott Sanders have been in court all week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be, but Daniel has been taking lots of notes for me, and The LA Times and The OC Register have been doing thorough coverage of the story.

The informant scandal has nothing specific to do with the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi, but it could have a big influence on how Daniel’s case plays out.  Other murder cases are going back to trial because of evidence hidden from defense attorneys.

On Friday, Sam’s dad and Julie’s mom spoke in court.  They asked that there be no more delays in sentencing Daniel.

I can’t help wondering: Would this case have been over long ago if the people in charge had just followed the law? Would the families have justice by now? As is, do you think they are worried that all this deception could lead to a re-trial for Daniel?

Because it could.

27 thoughts on “Penalty Phase: The Prosecution’s Closing Argument Part Two”

  1. I have read and re-read your posts since the beginning of the trial, and I must honestly say that I do not see what possible bearing the “snitch” affair could have on this case: at no point in the trial was any novel information gleaned from the snitches. Even assuming that Sanders is correct and that something was hidden from the defence team, I don’t see that this will affect the final outcome of the case. It might only determine if Daniel will live another 15 to 20 years or if he will live to a ripe old age behind bars

    1. There are other cases in Orange County that are being re-tried because of the “snitch” affair. I honestly do not think that is going to happen with Daniel’s case, but nothing is impossible I guess. Scott Sanders is likely to ask for a re-trial or to have the death penalty taken off the table. To me, the most interesting aspect of these “notes” is that the DA’s Office wasn’t aware of them.

  2. A retrial would be absolutely heartbreaking. Sickening really. Regardless if there’s notes unless they are detrimental evidence proving his innocence he doesn’t deserve any retrial. Black and white he killed two people he should pay.

  3. And sorry to say I think youre mistaken thinking anyone would really have interest in a book about ur opinion of Daniel and this case. Truthfully I think itd be a flop.

    1. I guess I can’t depend on you to read it Deb (or “Rache”).
      Oh well. Hopefully I’ll survive.

      1. Just getting caught up on your blog after watching Dateline. Have to laugh at this comment. Reads and comments on every post and then says no one will read your work. Def think Debbie = Rachel. And def think she was involved, which is why I began reading more about the case.

  4. I’ll buy your book! As I said before there is something wrong about this case. I hope you uncover it. Daniel could help you here. Have you read anything about the Winnie Ruth Judd murder case from 1931? You should look it up as a reference for Daniel. Ms. Judd was convicted of killing two of her friends and the putting one in a trunk and cutting up the other and putting that body in another trunk. Then she got on a train leaving Arizona and going to California and checked the trunks. (Part of the cut body was also in her suitcase.) She made the trip, but they refused to release the baggage because they were leaking blood. Ms. Judd was sentenced to death. She was a small woman – she couldn’t have moved the trunks. She had one gun but the other was never found. The body was cut by a doctor the coroner said. A car was seen outside the murder house. Ms. Judd took the blame. She never implicated anyone else. There are many things about her case that remind me of Daniel and his situation. Just a thought …..

    1. Thank you for the comment and I will check out the Winnie Ruth Judd case. It sounds very interesting!

    2. I made a feature about Winnie called “Murderess” in 2007. They show it annually in Phoenix! Glad to see someone else knows about it. They all know about it in Phoenix, of course, but I’ve never met anyone NOT from Phoenix who had heard of it, which is curious to me since it’s such an amazing story.

  5. Rache?? Lmao!!! That made my day but just as you are wrong in ninety percent of ur lame opinions wrong again. Shocker

  6. Of course the families are worried about a retrial. Having to relive everything again. Unsure of how long it’s going to take yet again for the families to get justice. Who wants to have to relive this. Spend their days in a court room. It’s unfair.

  7. You seem to have a certain influence over Daniel because of your friendship with him. Daniel is the key to turning this case around. He knows what was really planned and who planned it. He knows what he did and why, and he knows who else was involved. Daniel doesn’t strike me as a “mastermind” but Rachel does. I don’t think Daniel could have done all that he is accused of doing. He’s a smart guy – he would have done this differently if he was a “loner.” You need to find the way to get Daniel to understand (being the religious person that he seems) that the truth is supposed to be told – the victims families deserve this also. Daniel can clear all this up for us!

    1. If anyone else was involved in the murders of Sam and Julie, they should face punishment for their actions. I’ve told that to Daniel repeatedly and I would hope, he would give the families the complete and true stories behind the deaths of their loved ones. You know…if the story from the confession isn’t completely true…

  8. To my mind, if he was being truthful in his account of how he killed the two kids, laughing as he cut off the head, etc (and for the life of me I can’t figure out why he would make any of it up if it weren’t true) I don’t think he deserves leniency even if he is for all intents and purposes an otherwise “nice” guy. I’m sure he is personable but I don’t believe he can possess empathy or compassion to do what he did–even if he was desperate, sleep-deprived, on drugs, or any other dodge one can try and devise to undermine his act. This lack would, in the end, make him a sociopath (which is what I believe he is). Many sociopaths are extremely charismatic and likable. But charisma is not goodness. Humor is not compassion. He is missing a fundamental piece of his psyche that makes him dangerous forever. I don’t think you can “grow a conscience” even if you have the wherewithal to realize you lack one. As for leniency, I think when a crime is cruel and pointless to this degree (i.e. not a crime of passion), the punishment has to reflect the coldness of the crime, or justice isn’t being served. If he’d killed my friends or family this way, I would want to feel like he got the worst there was to get, and doesn’t deserve any special legal consideration. That said—I do find your blog interesting and I confess to a curiosity about what makes these people tick. How they can be likable and charming and then commit monstrous acts. It’s that duality which is fascinating.

    1. Fascinating indeed! Thank you for the comment.

      I still don’t buy the confession story though, and that’s probably one of the reasons my inner Nancy Drew can’t stop questioning aspects of the case that don’t make sense to me.

  9. I am surprised the media hasn’t taken more notice and initiative on these revelations. It seems like the news outlets covered the verdict and sentence phase, but not these revelations. Why? These findings make Judge Conley’s decision much harder. It would be hard to stick the Death Penalty on all this. The whole system is very shaky at this point. Daniel should just get life and try and reach out to some people to help make a difference.

    1. Orange County is not letting go of the death penalty easily in this case. But it might be a moot point if Californians vote against it in November.

    2. The OC Register and the LA Times have both done really interesting a detailed stories on the “snitch scandal,” but I haven’t seen much else about it.

      1. Yeah, OC Register and LA Times covered the Snitch news, verdicts and sentencing. However, the news outlets didn’t cover the OCSD note findings at all. The OCDA put out a canned response press release about it too. I plan to vote for Trump, Lorretta Sanchez, and repealing the Death Penalty this upcoming general election. Death Row and the Death Penalty is a joke in California. It should just be abolished. It will also save the state money too.

        1. Well we don’t agree about everything Bob, but we have the same opinions on the death penalty.

  10. I’m not satisfied with your answer to my post. I think you are probably the only person at this time who might be able to persuade Daniel to talk about his case and tell whatever there is that he hasn’t told yet. This can’t be the whole truth. Even he must admit that something smells about this ending. Rachel still comes to mind and there may be legal defenses that are possible. He also needs a better attorney!

    1. I’m sure Daniel would disagree with you about he qualifications of Scott Sanders, but I share your frustration.

      I don’t think Daniel is an innocent man who should be set free, but hopefully anyone who participated in the murders will face justice. I say that to Daniel all the time. He definitely knows if there is more to the story, I would want it to come out.

  11. You need find something better to do with your life ,instead of wasting your time fighting or giving excuses for a scumbag like this. It matters not of trying to pass blame into a conspiracy with others, he did it and needs to pay with his life.
    I will be retiring in a few years and was planning on moving back to New Mexico,but when I learned they no longer have the Death Penalty I said no way. I will not live in a state that has no death penalty. Crime is now rampant in Albuquerque and getting worse everyday.
    Thanks to all you bleeding heart liberals the death penalty has become a joke and an insult to the victims and their families. California alone has almost 900 people on death row and the last execution was over 12 years ago. Some of these killers have been on DeathRow for over 30 years and convicted of rape and killing children as young as 10 years old.
    You bleeding heart liberals have no concept of what our fore fathers meant by the term “cruel and unusual punishment”. This term reflected the fact of when you spoke against the King your tongue would be cut off or you stole a cow your hand would be cut off. But when you took a life in the commission of a crime you gave your life.
    It’s time make ALL this scum to pay the ultimate price and people like you need to spend time helping the victims and their families rather than wasting your time about what a “good ol’boy ” is jerk was.
    In closing I will pray for you and YOUR loved ones that your loved ones may become a victim of scum like this, so you may sleep in torment for the rest of your life.

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