Sentencing Day

It’s official. Daniel Wozniak is on his way to death row.

Literally. As I’m writing this on Monday, October 3rd, he’s being moved to San Quentin.

Normally, I visit him on Mondays.

Daniel didn’t know precisely what time he’d be leaving today because inmates aren’t given an exact time of departure. It’s a security risk.

However, if he was still at the OC Jail, Daniel was scheduled to have an early morning day room time today. He told me he would call me during day room (which he’s done pretty much every day for the past two years). If there was no phone call, then he was already gone.

No phone call.

2b54199e-8626-4812-a13a-b72b66714537I’ve spent a lot of time with Daniel this past week, so I’m behind in getting a post out. I’ve been visiting him officially as a member of the media. That meant I was able to visit him during off hours, and for much longer visits.

I left the Orange County Jail at 10 PM last night. The visiting room can be a little spooky when the place is empty. More about all that in another post.

Anyhoo – Let’s get to Daniel Wozniak’s sentencing hearing.

The Sentencing Hearing of Daniel Wozniak

On Friday, September 23, 2016, Judge Conley did the expected. He followed the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Daniel Wozniak to San Quentin’s death row.

8cced811-57d3-46f2-b8f5-73532798beacThe courtroom was packed that day. Many of the seats were filled with Sam’s and Julie’s family and friends. Relatives had even flown in to witness Daniel Wozniak’s sentencing. The Herr family brought an Army battalion (I’ll explain that when we get to the victim impact statements in the next post).

The rest of the place was filled with reporters, producers, news cameras, photographers, lookie-loos, and at least four jury members (three sat next to me and the forewoman sat between Sam’s mom and his aunt). There were also three extra Sherrif’s deputies.

Then there was me.

I felt really small and out of place. It was an odd experience knowing that everyone else in the crowd wanted my friend to die. The atmosphere in the courtroom was almost jovial. Before the hearing started, and during the breaks, people seemed cheery, energized and excited. It was as though this was an audience about to see a sold out performance of Hamilton. (I wish.)

I can understand why people hate Daniel so much. My own Facebook feed was riddled with posts from theatre friends with comments like ”it’s about time” and ”if anyone deserves to die it’s this guy,” interspersed with links to newspaper stories about the sentencing.

I had similar views when I first heard all about Daniel Wozniak’s crime. I wasn’t wishing death upon the man, but geez, he murdered a vet.  He dismembered the guy. He murdered an innocent girl to put the blame on the vet. He did all this to pay for his wedding and honeymoon. Yikes!

That is the prosecution’s story, and a lot of people believe it completely. Daniel Wozniak has never spoken out in his defense. The video footage of Daniel’s confession is all most people have ever heard. It’s not a far leap to assume that Daniel Wozniak is an evil and unredeemable sub-human.

I don’t believe the entirety of the prosecution’s story though, and I do speak with Daniel all the time.  I know a different person from the monster described in court.

Does that mean I don’t want him to go to San Quentin’s Death Row?

Actually, I’m okay with it.

If the Herr family and the Kibuishi family got some closure, relief, vengeance even, from Daniel receiving the death sentence, then I am not going to argue with that.

As Daniel’s friend, though, I’m glad we are in California. The last time someone was put to death in this state was 2006, and there are over 700 death row inmates ahead of Daniel.  Also, California just might abolish the death penalty in November’s election.

I don’t want Daniel to be put to death. I believe that he still has something to offer to the world (or at least his fellow inmates).  Daniel knows he will never make up for what he took from the Herr and Kibuishi families. But I’m going to use that old death penalty opponent’s argument and point out that taking Daniel’s life won’t bring back Sam and Julie.

Daniel Wozniak will likely never see the inside of San Quentin’s execution chamber. His death sentence is really more of a life-behind-bars sentence. It is also only the beginning of what will be years and years of appeals.

And yes, I will be taking some road trips up North to visit death row.

Sanders’ Last Motion

Defense attorney Scott Sanders fought the death penalty sentence until the last second.  He even filed another one of his famous (or infamous, if you ask the Orange County DA’s office) motions that same day, requesting the death penalty be dropped or Daniel be given a new penalty trial.

Sanders argued that Matt Murphy and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office have shown obvious inconsistencies in what has been said about Daniel’s ex-fiancée, Rachel Buffett, and her possible role in the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.

It turns out, in his indictment against Rachel, Murphy claimed that he knew she was involved, or at least had complete knowledge of the murders, and that she definitely tried to help Daniel cover them up.

During Daniel’s trial, Rachel came off as an innocent victim, the deceived fiancée. Upon learning the horrible truth, Rachel Buffett behaved like a dutiful citizen, and was instrumental when it came to helping the police obtain the evidence needed to prosecute Daniel.

So which Rachel is the correct one… and how can the OCDA go on the record saying both of these descriptions are true?

If investigators believe Rachel was a conspirator, shouldn’t Daniel’s jury have been told? If you remember from Daniel’s trial, in closing arguments Matt Murphy said the jury could go ahead and assume Rachel is guilty of something, but don’t let that change anyone’s opinions about Daniel.

I think Scott Sanders’ point is that Daniel received the death penalty because of the special circumstances surrounding his case, specifically the motive of financial gain. But what if the motive wasn’t money?

Scott Sanders wanted an opportunity to re-question Detective Jose Morales regarding the credibility of his testimony about Rachel’s possible involvement in the murders. Sanders didn’t believe Morales had been entirely credible. Perhaps the detective actually did learn some pertinent information from the jail house snitch who was put in place to manipulate Daniel into talking.

Sanders reiterated that the defense has fought tooth and nail to have access to the informant information. He even predicted that more information would conveniently be discovered after Daniel has been sentenced.

Scott Sanders hasn’t earned many friends in the courtroom. His statements often elicited eye-rolling and groans of disgust from the majority of the onlookers (including those jurors next to me). Matt Murphy even enjoyed getting in a few barbs by making fun of Scott Sanders verbosity and claiming that if Sanders wasn’t “accusing people of misconduct,” he’d only speak for five minutes.  The crowd guffawed at that one.

Umm Matt, you talked way more than Scott did during the trial. Just sayin’.

Scott Sanders also wanted the opportunity to question the informants themselves to see if they had any favorable statements about their observations of Daniel Wozniak.

I’m sure the jury wouldn’t have cared either way.

Judge Conley called this a “sleepwalker scenario,” claiming it wasn’t important if Daniel “did good deeds, but didn’t know it.”

You completely confused me with that argument, Your Honor. Just because Daniel doesn’t testify about how he often helps out other inmates, doesn’t mean he’s unaware that he does it. The only way the jury could learn about Daniel’s “good deeds” would be from the observations of others.

Judge Conley also accused Scott Sanders of trying to get in the “back door” by filing this last minute brief. He then struck down the entirety of Sanders’ brief, calling it “untimely.”

Since his client was about to be sentenced, though, I’d say Sanders’ continued attempts to save Daniel from death row seemed pretty timely.

The death penalty was not dismissed and a new trial will not be granted.

In fact, Judge Conley acknowledged that there was misconduct in Daniel Wozniak’s case, but he still believed that Daniel got a fair trial.

Wait. What?? Someone got that statement on the record, right?

Clearly nothing was gong to derail Daniel’s train to execution town.

Coming Next…

I’ll tell you about the victim impact statements in part two of this post. It won’t take long, I promise.

15 thoughts on “Sentencing Day”

  1. I think that Dan’s attorney bent over backwards for his client. I don’t think that any other attorney could have done more for him. What puzzles me, though, is why Dan never testified on his own behalf? What did he have to lose? And , maybe by testifying, he could have shown a side of him which was hidden from the jury and from the public. Maybe some jury members would have developed some kind of “compassion” for him, and then the verdict would not have been unanimous. I don’t know. It’s just a thought.

    1. I agree with you completely, Zvi. Scott Sanders argued the case Daniel wanted him to argue. Daniel made the choice to not testify. Perhaps he’ll end up testifying in another trial related to this case.

      Also, do you think it would even be possible for Daniel to get a fair and balanced trial in Orange County? I don’t. But the world of appeals is very different.

  2. As always, my dear, well written! Do we have any idea when Rachel may be brought to trial? Also, I noticed in some news reports that Tim’s girlfriend was also being charged. Are we aware of what her connection to this whole mess is?

    1. Thanks Carrie!

      Rachel’s pre-trial is November 10th.

      As far as Tim’s girlfriend – I don’t think she is facing any charges.

  3. did you notice noah buffet was at the sentencing? he sat on the left side, right behind where the jurors were sitting. no idea why he decided to show up.

    1. I was sitting over there as well. The young blonde man behind the jurors wasn’t Noah. He’s been confused for Buffett family members before. I’ve talked to him. He’s just a person interested in the case.

      I think that is the guy you’re talking about.

  4. I saw the summaries of the sentencing on the news, showing Dan coming into the room. From what I now know, the first thing he does is look for you, and that showed on the video. Him looking into the crowd, finding you & a little head nod and tiny smile to see you. I noticed it twice during the clips. Unless there was someone else there that he was looking for in the room, which I doubt. And, again he just bounces into the room, like he’s making a stage entrance. I don’t think that helps him at all…it just seems like he doesn’t take any of it seriously.

    1. Hi DT,

      You’ve touched on a topic that has caused me some guilt feelings. Yes. I am the reason Daniel smiled in court. I wanted to be there to support my friend, and he really appreciated that. However, there have been so many mentions of his court smile, that I feel like my presence didn’t do him any favors.

      Thank you for leaving a comment.

      1. The generous & forgiving part of me thinks that he should probably be allowed to have some support, and for him to be able to “get comfortable” in his surroundings. Make friends, figure out how to make the best of his situation…
        Which includes having a friend that supports him I guess.

        The vengeful part of me thinks that he should only be allowed to endure, not get comfortable. Not have friends, but only aggressors. With what he did, it is the only “just” thing my mind can come up with that is remotely on par with his actions. A person who can laugh while dismembering a friend, regardless of the motivation (directed to do so by his girlfriend, or solely motivated by money) does not deserve creature comforts in his remaining life.

        Then there’s the logical part of me that tries to reconcile the other 2 parts into something I can articulate, but I’m largely unable to do so.

        When I’ve spoken to the family, it’s all vengeful. When I listen to you, I can hear the forgiving side. But alone, I haven’t been able to find something that seems right.

        What does that have to do with him bouncing into court? It’s that apparent lack of concern in facing the families I think. They’re always there, and he gives no indications that he’s even remotely remorseful for what he’s done, other than getting caught. Everything else seems like one more big production with him at the center of it. Being on TV, having reporters want to talk to him, all of it…it’s like he’s just performing.

        I have no sense at all that he really and truly understands what he’s done. It’s like the “murderer” is or was a character he portrayed once, and like most actors, he can separate himself from his character afterwards. I really think that’s what he’s doing now. All the court appearances are just little one acts that continue the “murderer” character, and he doesn’t view himself as that character anymore, so he can just Dan, who is looking for his friend who can see past that character into who he now sees himself to be.

        I don’t know what’s in his head, and I don’t know that I’d actually understand it if I could peer in there. I do think that we haven’t heard all of the real story of the why’s in the case, and that’s the part that bugs me. I guess without the why, I don’t feel like I have enough info to decide what side to land on.

        1. DT,

          Thank you so much for your comment. You made some thoughful and ariticulate points. Your theory about Daniel playing the “murderer” character is and idea I have mulled over as well. There have been times I’ve wondered if he uses this outside exterior to protect the inside person. Beyond writing about Daniel, I also write to him. I feel like my friendship with him is helping him dig deeper into himself as a human being. Daniel’s court bouncing was always a frustration for me. Hopefully, through my relationship with him, we will all get some answers. It is often difficult for me to reconcile the person I know with the crimes that landed him in prison.

  5. Why is he such a good friend to you? Before you found out he murdered two people in cold blood, you barely knew him. Don’t you have other friends you would rather spend your time with than him? I guess if you were writing a book I could understand your continued close relationship with him but absent that or something similar it just seems really weird. Do you have a romantic interest in him?

    1. There have been many mentions in the blog about how I am writing a book about Daniel, the case, and what it’s like to be friends with him. That was my reason for contacting him in the first place and he knew that. Our friendship has developed over time throughout our many correspondences, phone calls and visits.

  6. There’s something about the jury foreman sitting in between the Herr family members that is kind of… icky? to me. The jury members are supposed to be completely impartial and make their decisions based on facts, not emotions. I understand wanting to come to the hearing and see the whole thing through, but I feel like that is taking it too far. I have also seen on video at least one jury member hugging the victim’s family members. I suppose in cases like this it is impossible to completely separate your emotions from your duty, but it just doesn’t seem right.

  7. You said ” I know a different person from the monster described in court.” No you don’t. There are not multiple Daniel’s, there is one. The version he wants you know is still the same person who was capable of viciously murdering two innocent people. I think that your separation of his behaviors that landed him on death row is unhealthy.

  8. It matters not to me whether Wozniak is evil or has seen the light. He can be spiritually pure and no threat to humanity now or in the future. He can be everybody’s best role model.
    What does matter is he plotted, and carried out, the egregious slaughter of 2 innocent people. For that he is located exactly where he belongs. The pain caused by his Death Row residency on his own family must be heartbreaking. That pain was caused by Wozniak, not the judge or jury. He destroyed three families and must bear the consequences.

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