“She was my best friend. My only friend when you come to think of it; simply because I let no one in… Deep down I had a very low sense of self-esteem… God delivered me an angel… There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her (even to this day if you can believe it). She was still part of my life for my first 3 months of incarceration – then I must have done something idiotically stupid…” — from Daniel’s first letter to me, August 31, 2014
It was the summer of 2010, and Daniel Wozniak had a problem.
Well, in fact he had several problems, not the least being his recent incarceration. Dan was sitting in the Orange County Jail facing charges of double murder.
He’d admitted to shooting his upstairs neighbor, Sam Herr, a 26-year-old college student and Army combat veteran. Dan claimed his motive was money. He had plans to clean out Herr’s rather sizable bank account. Dan told the Costa Mesa police that he also cut off Sam’s head and arms in a pathetic attempt to hide Sam’s identity.
Daniel Wozniak also revealed that he’d murdered Sam Herr’s close friend and tutor, 23-year-old Julie Kibuishi, inside Sam’s apartment. The plan was to frame Sam and make it look like he was on the run instead of missing.
Daniel had confessed to all of that. He was locked up in jail, and he was facing the death penalty.
But in August of 2010, what kept Dan up at night were thoughts of his (former) fiancée, Rachel Buffett, and how she’d recently ceased all communication with him.
The couple was supposed to be married the previous May, but Dan’s confession and subsequent incarceration derailed all plans for a romantic beachside wedding. Still, Dan was genuinely surprised when Rachel stopped writing, visiting and accepting his collect phone calls from jail. In fact, he was downright worried about her, and determined to figure out why Rachel had cut off all contact.
A month before, in July, the TV show Lockup was trolling for willing interviewees among the prisoners at the Orange County Jail. Daniel’s attorneys had warned him that the show’s producer would be on his tier and he should turn down any request to do an interview. That is exactly what he did.
Soon after, Daniel was moved over to the Main Jail (aka “the dog kennels”). Quickly, he noticed that the dayroom for D-MOD, his current home, actually had two telephones accessible to the inmates during their out-of-cell time: the usual phone for collect calls, and another, non-collect, phone available to inmates who were acting as their own lawyers (Pro-Per), or had special request documents from their attorneys allowing them access to non-collect calls. Phone time was also given to inmates as a “reward” for helping the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in some fashion.
Since Rachel Buffett had stopped accepting his collect calls, Dan coveted an opportunity to use that non-collect phone. After all, maybe Rachel was just short on funds and couldn’t afford to pay for the calls… (Or a stamp? She’d stopped writing as well).
Lockup To The Rescue?
Daniel was returning to his cell after a visit with his parents one day, and lo and behold, the same Lockup film crew was looking around his new tier in D-Mod.
Daniel wrote to me, “The same producer lady, Suzanne Ali, made eye contact and said, ‘I know you!’ I smiled and kept on walking right past them back to my cell. A couple minutes later, my door opens and I’m asked to return back to the rotunda area (from where I had just come)…”
This time, Suzanne Ali seemed more determined to convince Daniel to speak with her on camera. It seemed to Dan that Ali was buttering him up. She talked about how his case was “high profile,” and this could be Dan’s chance to “get his story out.” (This was the first of many times Daniel would be offered that same opportunity by a TV producer.)
He wasn’t interested, but he “jokingly” asked Ali if he could “get paid for doing it.”
Suzanne Ali said Lockup couldn’t offer anything. And then the officer who was escorting the crew spoke up, and threw out a couple of options to convince Dan to agree to be on the TV program. (Daniel suspects this deputy was a member of the special handling unit involved in the Orange County Snitch Scandal, and was purposefully trying to get him to incriminate himself on camera).
So, readers… you can probably already see where this is going. Yup, Daniel agreed to be interviewed, but only if he could have access to the dayroom “free” phone.
First, he had to keep up his end of the bargain. Dan signed a waiver, was immediately put in restraints, and walked over to an open MOD in the main Women’s jail. The crew filmed him on the way (wearing his flood-length jail pants that looked like they came from the “Huck Finn” collection).
On the way over, Daniel couldn’t help wondering how angry this was going to make his attorney, Scott Sanders. (The answer to that: VERY).
The thing is, Dan had never heard of the show LockUp before they came into his MOD. He thought it was like a local cable access show with a very small viewing audience, and for whatever nutty reason, he thought it was a show to teach kids how to “follow the rules” or they could end up in jail like him.
He thought LockUp was like a combination “After School Special” and Scared Straight.
The group arrived at the filming area and the crew set up two chairs where Daniel and the Ali would sit during the interview. DDan was asked to do a sound check.
Way To Read The Room
Daniel Wozniak had been deeply involved in community theatre before his arrest. He’s done numerous sound checks in his life. Remember, Daniel and I met through theatre. As a director, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an actor say “testies…testicles…” into a microphone. It is commonplace to kid around during tech setup in the theatre world. So, Daniel Wozniak, a man who regularly turns to humor when he is in an uncomfortable situation, smiled and looked into the TV camera and quipped:
I want people to know that I’m a good guy. I’m easy going. I enjoy long walks on the beach. I’m an Aries.
And that sound check became the introduction to Daniel’s Lockup interview.
It was a completely inappropriate time for a lame joke. That bad is on him and he knows it.
Daniel Wozniak Describes His Lockup Interview
Here is how Daniel explains what happened next:
Ali goes over the format and what I should expect. She assures me that I’m going to be “running the show” and I won’t have to answer or talk about certain topics or specific details (if I don’t want to)… I reminded her that due to the fact that I hadn’t had a trial yet, I couldn’t go into details regarding the case itself – and to respectfully avoid those questions. I said I wanted to focus on the jail and the experience within… She agreed that would be a good “starting point.”
For the first 10 minutes or so, Ali asked me various questions about my life in jail and I gave my answers (At least 95% of which never made the final edit)… Then she starts broaching into my case (trying to get me to talk about it). I respectfully say that “I can’t comment on that at this time.” She returns to something more neutral but then jogs back to the case within the next couple of questions. For the first few times I’m calm, cool and collected when responding, “I can’t talk about that,” but the pattern continues and the two of us are becoming more and more frustrated. She keeps asking the same questions, and I won’t answer her.
Then Ali becomes like a detective – instead of asking me questions, she begins telling me some of the “facts” that are out there and wanting me to comment or explain. Since I say I can’t talk about the details, she asks me how I “feel” about some of the elements of the crime:
- Are you happy that Sam and Julie are dead?
- If this was the plan, are you pleased with how it turned out?
- What are your feelings toward Sam and Julie – were they your friends?
She started flipping some of my own answers on me:
- What would motivate you to kill two people when you say you have no reason and had nothing against them?
The questions kept coming and coming and I was approaching a breaking point… I told her “I don’t remember,” and “I’m not aware of what has been said.” So she asks me if I know what the newspapers are writing and people are saying about me. When I say “no” she gets one of her crew members to pull up a couple of articles for me to read… and he hands me his phone.
The articles that dude pulled up on his phone weren’t the basic informative New York Times style of articles. These were readers comments and what they had to say about the case and me. Reading one after the other, after the other, etc. – was not something I was ready for, especially when I was already at my “breaking point.” The emotion hit me like a tidal wave… water streamed out of my eyes and I couldn’t turn off the damn valve and make it stop! Complete and utter MELTDOWN. They had broken me and they knew it. At which point the interview was over.
Ultimately Ali didn’t get the story she wanted and I’ve always suspected she was pissed off about it and edited the episode to make me look as bad as humanly possible.
Not So Ready For His Close Up
If that was Suzanne Ali’s goal, she was damn successful. Let’s be honest here: The viewing audience didn’t feel sorry for Dan at all. This was a guy who had confessed to murdering two people.
When I watched the show the first time, I thought Dan was acting for the camera the entire time. and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t believe his tears at all. But really, after the confession, any words out of his mouth would make him look bad. The only way to avoid the problem would have been to not do the interview. That’s something Daniel Wozniak learned from his Lockup experience – don’t do interviews.
When Daniel and the crew got back to the “dog kennels,” the camera man asked about day to day life inside the OC Jail. That’s when they filmed Daniel shaving and creating culinary masterpieces. When the cell shots were finished, it was finally Daniel’s chance to reap the rewards of going though all that emotional turmoil. It was time to go into the dayroom and call Rachel Buffett on the non-collect phone!
Time To Call Rachel!
Just before leaving, someone from Lockup asked Daniel if they could return and film one of his visits as well. There was no way Daniel’s very private parents would agree to be on camera. And even though she hadn’t spoken to him in a couple of weeks, Dan Wozniak thought he might just as well ask Rachel Buffett if she would be willing to be on the show.
Dan dialed Rachel’s number and after a couple of rings she answered the phone. From Dan’s telling, the call went something like this:
Dan: Well hello to you too. Where the hell have you been?
Rachel: How are you calling me?
Dan: Just filmed an episode of Lockup and I got some free phone calls. Oh and by the way, the crew is still here and they were wondering if you want to be filmed visiting me.
Dan: Can you come visit and be filmed for Lockup?
Rachel: No! Are you an idiot?
Dan: So I’ve been told.
Rachel: Why did you agree to do that??
Dan: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because someone wasn’t answering her phone when I called.
Rachel: So you go on a TV show?
Dan: It was the only way I could talk to you.
Rachel: No. Dan. I’m sorry but this is not a good time. I really have to go. Can you call back later?
(Was she washing her hair??)
Dan: ummm I assume so.
Rachel: Ok, call me back later.
Dan: Just to be clear, that’s a “no” to visiting, right?
Rachel: Goodbye Dan.
Is anyone surprised that Rachel didn’t answer the phone when Dan called back?
Readers! I have a special surprise for you! One of you (thanks, Isadora!) discovered that the episode of Lockup is available for your viewing pleasure. It is now listed as “Facing the Death Penalty.” Here it is!