Sentencing Day Part Two: Victim Impact Statements

Judge Conley made quick work of striking down defense attorney Scott Sanders’ motion for the removal of the death penalty in Daniel Wozniak’s sentence.

Conley explained why he planned to go along with the jury’s decision to choose death:

Daniel had no previous crimes or signs of violence in his past. The jury had seen Daniel’s performances in Nine on the weekend of the murders and Daniel appeared fine. The jury rejected any argument that Daniel had been manipulated by Rachel Buffett. Judge Conley also stated there was no evidence from Daniel’s family to support him. His strongest reason for following the recommendation of the jury was that Daniel murdered two of his own friends so he could “get married and honeymoon in style.”

At this point in the sentencing hearing, Jude Conley hadn’t actually said the words “death sentence,” but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind Daniel was about to be sent to San Quentin.

Victim Impact Statements Prior To Sentencing

When court resumed after lunch (I ate crackers, cheese, an apple and a chocolate protein bar), it was time for the victim impact statements.

Now was the opportunity for those who loved Sam and Julie to speak, unhindered, on how the murders directly affected them. Considering the number of people who came to court that day, I was expecting a lot more people to speak, but only four family members ended up giving statements.

Sam Herr’s Family Victim Impact Statements

Sam’s cousin Leah was up first.

She talked of how she and “Sammy” were more like siblings than cousins. She described Sam as kind, loving and generous. She acknowledged Sam’s “difficult” time as a young adult, but her cousin had redefined himself in the Army and was trying to “pay society back” for his mistakes.

Leah imagined her own nine-year-old daughter speaking directly to Daniel Wozniak, and how the child would tell him that her uncle was only trying to help him and would have loaned Daniel the money.

Sam’s aunt Miriam spoke next. She said she should be able to speak for seven hours, one hour for each year the Herr family waited for justice.

Miriam’s anger toward defense attorney Scott Sanders was palpable. She accused Sanders of trying to gain his own glory from Daniel’s trial. Sam’s aunt finished her statement with a hope that Sam and Julie would be guarding the gates of heaven to keep Daniel from entering when he dies.

Steve Herr’s Statements

The final member of Sam’s family to speak was his father, Steve Herr. His wife Raquel stood next to him.

Steve made a request of all of Sam’s fellow veterans who’d come to court that day. He wanted them to join him and Sam’s mom at the podium. I think there were eight of Sam’s Army friends flanking the Herrs and supporting them during Steve’s statement.

He began by thanking Judge Conley, Matt Murphy, and the Costa Mesa Police for all their hard work. He expressed sympathy for the Kibuishi family.

Steve Herr said he could speak for hours about his son Sam, who he and Raquel loved with all their hearts.

A letter was read from Army Capt. Benjamin Kilgore, Sam’s troop leader in Afghanistan. Capt. Kilgore praised Sam’s character and bravery as a U.S. soldier.

Steve Herr looked at Daniel and reminded him about the man he’d murdered, stating that Daniel Wozniak is the “poster boy” for the need of a death penalty in California.

At the end of his victim impact statement, Steve Herr voiced that his “only regret” was that the state of California wouldn’t let him “kill this coward” himself.

Do you think it would make Steve Herr feel a little better if he could punch Daniel in the face really hard just one time? Daniel is my friend, but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge any of Sam’s or Julie’s people the opportunity to punch him in the face. I don’t think Daniel would even complain about that. I really don’t.

 You know what though? I think some of them would trade the chance to punch Daniel if there was an opportunity to punch Scott Sanders in the face. I’m not saying it’s deserved, but there is a lot of anger aimed at Scott.

Julie Kibuishi’s Family Victim Impact Statements

The final victim impact statement was made by June Kibuishi, Julie’s mother, while her husband Masa stood next to her at the podium. She looked directly at Daniel and began, “On May 22, 2010, you took my beautiful precious daughter’s life,” by murdering Julie and then disgracing her to use her as a decoy.

June Kibuishi talked about how her family came from Japan more than thirty years ago so they could give their children a better life. The Kibuishis taught their kids to be good people with loving hearts, but June’s own heart was, “ripped apart when (she) found out what happened to (her) baby.”

Julie’s mother sobbed as she asked Daniel Wozniak how he could “take away (her) baby.” She berated Daniel for showing no remorse or guilt in the courtroom, instead smiling and enjoying being the center of attention, and “if anyone deserves the death penalty, it’s him.”

June may have been the only Kibuishi family member to speak, but she packed enough of an emotional wallop for her entire family.

I’ve wondered how the families made the decision of who would talk at Daniel’s sentencing hearing. Were there some family members who knew they wouldn’t be able to even get words out, or others who though they might explode with anger if they looked at, and spoke directly to, Daniel Wozniak?

It makes me think of footage from the Jeffrey Dahmer trial. A woman who was the sister of one of his victims had to be restrained by deputies when she came at Dahmer screaming, “Jeffery, I hate you!” No, I am not comparing Daniel to Jeffrey Dahmer in any way. I’m just contemplating the level of anger a person must feel in that situation, and how challenging it would be to keep your calm.

Daniel did look directly at the speakers during their statements. Well, actually I couldn’t see him during Steve Herr’s statement because of all the Army guys (Not that I’m complaining about the view at that point).

Daniel Wozniak’s Response To The Victim Impact Statements

I know many people probably saw Daniel as expressionless because of what appeared to be a lack of emotion on his face. One journalist asked me if I think Daniel is a psychopath. I said no. I don’t.

I think he was just really listening, and probably trying not to have any expression on his face. If he cried, people would think he felt sorry for himself or, worse yet, he was “acting.” I saw a man who is genuinely contrite, but that’s probably because I know he is.

Judge Conley Sentences Daniel Wozniak

It was 2:15 PM on September 25, 2016, when Judge Conley read the official sentencing.

Daniel Wozniak was given two sentences of twenty-five years to life (the extra sentences were unexpected), and the death penalty.

He was to be sent to San Quentin State Prison and placed in California’s only death row facility within ten days of the sentencing.

Before court adjourned, Judge Conley set one final hearing for the following Friday. This was to settle the specifics of the financial restitution that Daniel Wozniak will pay to the Sam’s and Julie’s families.

Prosecutor Matt Murphy was so enthusiastic about getting Daniel on his way to San Quentin, he suggested Daniel be driven the over four hundred miles right away and then be driven back to appear in court the next week. Judge Conley turned down that plan, but I suspect Matt Murphy would have offered to drive Daniel to San Quentin himself.

Let’s just take a moment to imagine Matt Murphy behind the wheel of what I’d imagine would be a black Mercedes M-class, a shackled Daniel Wozniak riding shotgun. What station would be on Matt’s radio? I’d like to imagine him picking an old standards station. I can just see the two of them on the open highway, both singing along to Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.”

Daniel Wozniak Leaves The Orange County Jail For San Quentin’s Death Row

 Today I received my last letter from Daniel at the OC Jail. He’d written it just after I left on Sunday night. He said that as soon as our visit ended, the deputies told him to prepare to leave or “roll up,” if you’re using the vernacular of the incarcerated. That probably means they drove to San Quentin in the dark. I wonder if Daniel slept at all. I think he was planning to stay awake and see as much as he could see.

Some of you won’t be happy to learn this, but Daniel isn’t scared or worried to be going to death row. He has a pretty good sense of what it will be like in there and already has friends “on the row” who he met when he was in the OC Jail.

Also, once a person is actually in prison, there is access to a lot more creature comforts. So, he’s not really worse off. He did say he’d miss seeing me every Monday, but he’s pleased to have access to the San Quentin law library where he can find information for his own case, but more so, to help other inmates with their legal issues.

Daniel Wozniak will never be able to make up for what he took from the Herr family and the Kibuishi family, but all he can do now is try to move forward, and be his best self from here on out. I think that’s the most anyone can do.

19 thoughts on “Sentencing Day Part Two: Victim Impact Statements”

  1. I look forward to Daniel’s appeals. I feel in my heart that one day he will have his sentence revoked and possible changed to life without parole. By helping others with their legal issues, he could still be productive in prison.
    I understand Daniel and his poor decisions. Soe day he may be able to tell the whole truth and to implicate the ones who helped him plan these killings and the ones who are just as guilty as he might be.
    I would like to correspond with Daniel. Ask him if I can write to him. You both are in my thoughts.

    1. I also look forward to the appeals process and learning any new information about the case.

      Daniel has already written me from San Quentin. He said I could share his mailing information on the blog:

      Daniel Wozniak
      San Quentin State Prison
      San Quentin, CA 94974

  2. Thanks for the updating this interesting blog throughout this case. I thought both victim impact statements by Julie’s mother and Sam’s father were very powerful and tough to listen to. The full statements could be found on the OCDA’s website. Also FYI, the OCSD inmate website shows Daniel was in-custody released at 5:00AM in the morning. So most likely, they told him to rollup on Sunday night, then made him sit in a hard cemented processing tank and then shipped his rumpus to San Quentin in most likely a van or bus. He could now get a lot of things in his cell at San Quentin. Typewriter, TV, and other stuff. Do you know where his real dorky and lame Hawaiian shirt went? Rachel probably bought that for him, with her real good taste in fashion.

    1. Good detective work, Bob. I just received a letter from Daniel and that is exactly what took place. The only thing you got wrong was the vehicle. It was a Ford

      He will have access to many more creature comforts now than he did at the Orange County Jail. However, for the first month or so, he’ll be in a reception area where he won’t be able to acquire much.

      Thank you for reading and for leaving the comment.

      Seriously – where is that shirt?

  3. I don’t believe that Daniel is not scared of being executed some time in the future. He, more or less, knows how he will be leaving this world. The rest of us don’t know when we’ll leave this world or how. As for fear of death, I think everyone has a fear of it, even 99 year old people who are so old that they barely know they are alive.
    From what I’ve seen of San Quentin on the Web, this prison doesn’t offer much in terms of creature comforts, especially for the 760 inmates on Death Row. As such, Daniel is in for a very tedious and boring existence, with no hope of ever leaving that prison alive. I can’t think of anything more despairing and hopeless than that. Death, by comparison, would be a relief.

    1. For me personally – I agree with you. But Daniel Wozniak is one of the most hopeful and “glass half full” people that I’ve ever met.

      I’ll be writing about Daniel’s time in San Quentin in the blog, but so far – he’s doing well and he’s really appreciative of the quality and quantity of food supplied in prison. He claims it is much better than the food at the OC Jail.

    2. It is interesting that you focus on this extraordinarily psychopathic individual. My goodness killing a mate as well as his girlfriend and then dismember that poor young man, it’s very difficult for me to understand how some folk can be so forgiving. My personal belief is that he should never be put to death. However his incarceration should be less a walk in the park as would appear. You metntion creature comforts? That wa his motive in the first place creature comforts following his wedding. No on this occasion hard labour for the rest of his natural life is the only fitting punishment?

      1. I have to admit, if somone was being punished for killing my loved one, I would want his punishment to be more severe than the experience Daniel describes to me.

  4. Great blog. I’ll keep coming back for more.

    I stand against the death penalty. No matter how horrible a crime is, putting its perpetrators to death will not get the victims back nor “undo” what has been done.

    1. No it will not bring a loved one back but they will get the sentence that they deserve since they don’t value other people’s life, their life shouldn’t be valued …what The death penalty will do is offer that evil individual who did such a horrifying act the experience of overwhelming fear and anxiety knowing that they’re going to be put to death and the feeling gets worse the closer and closer the date comes and every day those feelings will be eating up their insides making them crazy in the head more crazy than they ever were, they will have no peace and they don’t deserve that at all …if you have life in prison you’re still living , still get to use your brain, learn about the world through books, express their creativity, talk to their loved ones & all of that is precious. They are still breathing! without the fear of knowing you’re going to be put to death, beyond their control …. because evil people like to be in control and them not being in control over their fate is beautiful. it’s the worst punishment for them and they deserve it ,that is the worst form of punishment and they deserve that wholeheartedly- The ones that do deserve it though. I honestly think there’s way too many people on death row where their case runs a fine line of whether they could very well be innocent with the evidence that’s against them as much as their current guilty verdict. I would like to reserve the death penalty for the worst of the worst where there is overwhelming evidence of this person not being a person but a monster & it’s just case-by-case , horrible ones that we cannot ignore. & this would be how it is throughout every state in our country.

      1. I think the Herr family and the Kibuishi family would agree with your sentiments.

        I often have a tendency to think along the same lines of a “case-by-case” basis, but then who determines which cases?

        You may have noticed in my last couple of posts, I’ve also acknowledged that Daniel’s time behind bars is still time to have a life and Sam and Julie don’t get that.

  5. First time commenting here. I just binge read your entire blog over the course of a few hours (I’m a fast reader). I live in Anaheim, but I had been in school in San Francisco when the case happened. I actually only heard of this case on the unresolvedmysteries subreddit. I’m just going to say, I am on your side. I think the trial was ridiculous to say the least. My main thought the whole time was that the defense should have done more to show Daniel’s human side during the trial. But they didn’t, and I hope the trial gets appealed. We need a new trial. Because honestly, he doesn’t deserve the death penalty (though, imo, no one does). I hope he can get life in prison, because I am apphaled at the trial. And I can also understand what drugs can do to your head; though I am curious to why this wasn’t brought up in trial.

    Anyway. I look forward to more blog posts by you. I wish I had the courage to reach out to people like you have. Keep doing what you do.

    1. Your comment means a lot to me. Thank you. I’m going to be dedicating more time to the book project and I plan to introduce a number of different ideas and theories I’ve developed over the past 2 years. Being in court during Daniel’s trial was eye opening for me. Daniel’s defense attorney often tried to introduce evidence and witnesses to give the jury a bigger picture of Daniel and his relationship. However, Judge Conley considered much of the information to be irrelevant. Will issues like this come to appeal in Daniel’s case. I think they will. I also hope that more information will be made public during the trial of Rachel Buffett.

      1. Thanks for the reply! Its amazing how much people refuse to see Daniel’s humanity in this all; I actually posted about his case on that subreddit, and I got downvoted so much and was sent very aggressive messages. It was pretty sad; I think maybe 2 people in that thread with hundreds of comments actually listened to what I had to say.

        I just hope that all the info about Rachel’s involvement comes out during her trial, and we can see more of the bigger picture.

      2. So you guys are saying he didn’t do it? He’s innocent? That’s the only thing I feel you guys could possibly see him as being to even remotely give him any empathy or support ….. Yes he was your friend and so you see/saw another side of him “you know that he’s not really like this ” but maybe you just got the fictionalized version of him the whole time and he played it like the good actor he is ….the evil was always lurking inside of him. but wake up …yes …he IS like this, he did this & there is no excuse on the earth that can justify it …. Seeing his interviews alone is enough. laughing & being giddy about chopping his friend up? Lemme guess he was high or drunk or insane at the time and didn’t know right from wrong? No that was him just realizing the jig is up and this was his time to quit the façade and take in this moment of being able to finally be his true self …something he couldn’t ever be before because society usually frowns upon things like that. he exposed his real self right then and there but people do not want to see it they don’t want to believe it ( that his true self is evil )because those who don’t want to believe it have good hearts and they don’t believe that this kind of evil exists. all that other crap IS irelevant …what Rachel did blah blah… She manipulated him …. He is a grown ass man and I know plenty of friends who’ve been manipulated to the core by their spouses or significant others but yet they knew how to make the right choices… not murder somebody for wedding money, but in all reality Daniel’s been wanting to do this psycho stuff for a very …long …time … all he needed was a little guidance or somebody just to give him a lil push, a green light, a voice that says “this is OK ” psychopaths ( or is he a sociopath?) usually wait for these little encouragements just a little fuel to their fire … he was game to do this he didn’t really do it for money, maybe that’s a part of it, but he wanted to do these sick & twisted things he’s just been pushing it so far down in him for all these years… but his moment came. we see it all the time. Daniel did these acts and no matter what the Hells going on in the sidelines the whispers in his ear the manipulation , his mental state, no matter if all those things are brought up he still did those monstrous things and admitted to it in the most disgusting way… how he could have a bachelor party is beyond me …a human that actually feels remorse or some sort of disgust with them self or regret cannot do those things like party & carry on and just shove two brutal murders in the back of their mind… he did those acts and that alone is death penalty worthy. 2 lives? & butchering a body? Sam herr’s pops is right- if there ever was a poster boy for deserving the death penalty it is Daniel. I mean if this was just a crazy thing for him to do and he’s normally such a standup guy he sure the hell went out of his way to make everybody know how remorseful and sorry he is didn’t he ? He Told everybody he’ll spend the rest of his life showing them he is sorry & trying to prove that person who murdered isn’t who he really is …. He said that didn’t he ? I don’t think so ….if he was snapped back to human form after murders & during his trial he sure showed his humanity and grief and remorse through his body language and eyes …. no he showed everybody how he can laugh and have a great grand ol-time sitting at the defense table . If he was half of a human he would go out of his way to make sure he didn’t even have a half a grin on his face to show respect for the families. And I highly doubt that he didn’t show any emotion because “he didn’t want it to seem like he was feeling sorry for himself ” as if to suggest he is some kind of proud strong willed man- no he genuinely didn’t shed tears or look like he gave a care because he really doesn’t care … He certainly cares about his freedom and that’s exactly why he was trying to cover things up and try not to get the worst penalty possible…. and yes I did watch dateline or 48 hours special on the whole case & videos online and I didn’t see any feeling from him ….he was blank the whole time except for the moment they told him he was going to get death and then that second afterwords …that there what you see from him is what shook him & made him FEEL A LIL’ SOMETHING and that lil something was feeling sorry for himself …that was the only thing he gave a damn about and you cannot deny that you can watch that clip over and over and over again. A rare glimpse of human emotion a REACTION and it’s for himself . & All of this rambling is coming from somebody who suffers chronic depression throughout my life & could use my illness as reasons why I’ve done some of the shit things I’ve ever done but I don’t … I’m an advocate for the mental health alliance and Nami and without a doubt always have compassion for the cases where people are severely mentally ill and no one gets them help & their horrific acts are due to the fact that they have unraveled and deteriorated so far they truly did not know right from wrong or I will always factor in their history of mental illness as to a sort of understanding as to why they did what they did but I mean there has to be so many complex layers to it and this Daniel premeditated, callously covered up and did things no human should even have the stomach to do and he showed that he has no problem putting on a show pretending to be a normal human to try to show his innocence. Mind blowing ! however despite my disdain for the fact some people are actually thinking he should have appeals and be sent to life in prison I have to say I’m really impressed with your blog on how -overall- neutral you’re actually being because I have to admit when I clicked on a blog stating that Daniel is your friend I was getting ready to read a bunch of disses & hate for the prosecution or how everything wasn’t fair for Daniel & and mostly talking about how he’s the victim and never even mentioning the murder victims lives and how they are what’s important here and their families feelings but nope you actually have compassion for the other side and are very open minded & can put yourself in other people shoes. This got me thinking …. I’m going to be attending a murder trial starting tomorrow … I’ll be escorting my friend whose mother was the victim murdered – stabbed to death by her estranged uncle … I was thinking of chronicling my experience as I think that’s a human and honest thing to want to do , especially for me since I am a writer not professionally but I’ve always written and journaled, chronicled my life but I want to make sure that my friend is OK with me doing that, my first and foremost role is to be a support to her…. I just don’t want to offend her? I don’t know do you think it would be OK ?

        1. I’d read it! Court precedings documented by a regular person are obviously interesting to me.

          I’m so sorry about your friend. It’s nice that you’re suppporting her.

          Thank you for your comment. I have tried to show both sides of the story. Before Daniel’s trial began, I did want to keep an open mind about his guilt or innocence. You know, “innocent until proven guilty.” I hadn’t seen any of the evidence at that point. I will say that Daniel never claimed to me that he was innocent. I don’t think the true story came out during the trial, but I also don’t believe that Daniel is innocent at all. He deserves to be behind bars.

    2. Vincent:
      Your comments about the defense not showing the killer’s humane side, indicates you have no knowledge about how trials are executed — pardon the pun — because those kinds of comments you reference are part of a defense that come up in a trial during the sentencing portion to try to mitigate the punishment, not during the course of a trial. I’m curious why you think the trial was “ridiculous.” This killer confessed to the killings, still, to this day, and doesn’t deny what he did.

    3. Your comment demonstrates you know NOTHING about the criminal justice system and jurisprudence. Talking about the killer’s “human side” only occurs AFTER the trial is over and is in the penalty phase. I’m curious why you were “appalled” at the trial. There was no defense because there was no defense. The killer confessed. He showed the police where to find the body parts of Sam. He voluntarily chose to do this. He admitted his guilt. Your comment is “appalling” because you know nothing about court procedure and throw out statements that are ludicrous by their content.

  6. I understand why the victim’s family has anger, in general. I would too. However, someone should have informed them that the defense attorney has an important job. If you care about nothing else (justice, due process, etc.), and if you want someone to go to jail and/or get the death penalty, then you want them to get a proper defense. Anyone who gets the death penalty gets an automatic appeal and they get more appeals than the average defendant. I assume no victim/victim family members want to go through this process again because the defendant got a retrial based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

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