It’s Monday, September 10, 2018. I just got home from the courthouse.
Today’s session of the Rachel Buffett trial ended before eleven. This wasn’t because of any issues or attorney arguments. It appears that the witness portion of the trial will be soon be ending. Judge Hanson excused the jury, explaining that the remainder of the day would be used by the attorneys to work on stipulations for final jury instructions.
During Daniel’s trial, I stuck around for all the attorney interactions, but Asst. DA Matt Murphy and Rachel’s defense attorney, David Medina, are so cordial with each other, it didn’t seem like there would be much of a battle. I won’t lie: Murphy and Scott Sanders were more entertaining when they went head to head.
As I have been watching Rachel’s trial, I can’t help wondering how I personally would vote if I were on the jury and had no previous knowledge of this case. Right now, I would be on the fence.
Day One (9/5/18)
Matt Murphy gave his opening argument, and lucky for me, in order to look at the jury, he turned toward where I sat in the courtroom. This meant I was able to hear him a lot better than I could during Daniel’s trial. Matt Murphy can be so mumbly, each day there are at least six people wearing headphones provided for the court because they have difficulty hearing the proceedings.
Side note – I like to sit in the far back corner because I feel hidden away AND there is an electrical outlet right next to me where I can charge my phone during the trial.
DA Murphy’s Opening Statement
Assistant DA Matt Murphy’s opening statement was so similar to the one he gave during Daniel’s trial that I thought I was having déjà vu. He made the same joke / reference to the TV show Melrose Place when describing the Camden Apartments complex where Dan Wozniak, Rachel Buffett and murder victim Sam Herr were all living in May of 2010. It was necessary for Matt Murphy to tell the entire disturbing story again because this is an entirely new jury.
Side note – The brutal murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi have been so much a part of my everyday life for the past three years that it always surprises me when Orange County residents know nothing about the case of the “Gruesome Groom” who murdered two people so he could go on an amazing honeymoon.
Still, Murphy’s opening felt like Daniel was on trial again. I’d expected more changes that related specifically to Rachel’s charges. I get it, though. There are a lot of twists and turns to this story no matter what you believe actually happened.
In Rachel’s trial, Matt Murphy also brought out some “evidence” that he used during Daniel’s trial, and he once again made some unproven claims during his opening/closing arguments.
- An envelope containing an invitation to Dan and Rachel’s wedding was found in Sam’s apartment. The “S” in the name Sam looked like a lightning bolt. Julie Kibuishi had the words “All yours fuck you” scrawled on her sweater when her body was found in Sam’s apartment. The “s” on her sweater looked like a lightning bolt. Matt Murphy has told two juries that Daniel Wozniak wrote the invitation and the words on Julie’s sweater. However, there has never been any actual proof put forth to prove Daniel wrote either. Rachel could have written them both. I have a tendency to believe she did. However, we were never shown any other proven examples of Dan’s or Rachel’s writing to compare those lightning bolts.
- A sketchpad was found in Sam Herr’s apartment. On one of the pages was a disturbing and rudimentary charcoal drawing that appeared to be of an Asian woman lying down surrounded by flames. It had words to the effect of “I’m done,” written next the drawing. Matt Murphy has emphatically stated that Daniel Wozniak made this drawing. But I want the proof. Fingerprints? DNA? I know they can test hands for gunshot residue. Ummm… charcoal residue test?
Before Daniel Wozniak’s trial, I knew very little about the legal system. I honestly had no idea that during opening and closing arguments lawyers can make any claims and purport any theories they wish, but they don’t actually have to prove them.
This fact is pointed out to the the jury during instructions, but do they all remember this when Murphy is dramatically flashing a disturbing drawing in front of them? Perhaps Matt could have used the “S” and the drawing against Rachel too if, during Dan’s trial, he had just suggested that either one of them was responsible.
But, any tiny hint of Rachel’s culpability during Dan Wozniak’s trial may have lost Murphy his coveted death penalty verdict.
If it seems like I’m writing about Daniel’s trial instead of Rachel’s, it’s because Matt Murphy was putting on the same show. For example, I still don’t understand why he made sure both juries knew that murder victim Julie Kibuishi had a Taylor Swift ringtone on her cell phone. That is sad as hell, but not evidence of anything.
The One About Rachel Buffett
Finally, Matt got around to talking about Rachel Buffett. He told the jury Rachel grew up in Long Beach, was home schooled, and took dance and acting classes at a local community college. Matt Murphy also emphasized that in the relationship between Rachel and Dan, it was she who “wore the pants.”
Later, he even called witnesses to corroborate that claim on the stand.
I’ve personally spoken to quite a few people who all say Rachel was the boss. When I’ve brought this up to Daniel Wozniak himself, he denies it and still believes the two of them were equals.
It’s important to remember that Rachel Buffett professes to be just another one of Daniel Wozniak’s victims. She says she knew nothing about their bank debt, rent issues or the money borrowed from friends.
But during Matt’s opening, he pointed out that Rachel knew she and Daniel were being evicted from their apartment only two months after moving in. They had received an official warning from the Orange County Sheriffs, and had been told to vacate the apartment.
Matt Murphy told the jury that Dan and Rachel moved into the Camden Apartments on February 14. My eyes immediately darted to Julie Kibuishi’s parents.
Julie was born on Valentine’s Day, and I suspected the mention of that date wouldn’t slip past them. I saw June Kibuishi wince at the mention of what was her daughter’s final birthday.
Soon after that, it was Sam’s mother in tears when Matt Murphy showed photos of the ax and saw used to dismember her only child.
Matt Murphy went on to tell the jury about Daniel and Rachel’s mutual debt. Both had individual bank accounts and shared accounts that were in the red. The total debt accrued, including back rent and Dan’s DUI charges, came out to about $3,000. Neither Dan nor Rachel had any credit card debt, and I do wonder how many couples in their twenties have similar debt.
Side note: Murphy wondered why Dan didn’t just get a job acting in TV commercials instead of murdering for money. Ummm, Matt – I can’t count the number of times you and the Costa Mesa Police have commented on Dan’s “bad” acting. Commercial jobs are hard to get even for good actors.
Our Cast of Characters
The DA’s opening argument continued with an introduction to some of the key players, complete with nicknames:
- “Our hero,” Dan Wozniak
- “Evil Jeff Spicoli,” Dan’s older brother Tim Wozniak
- “Naïve teenager,” and ATM dupe Wesley Freilich
- “Money lender and all around great guy,” Chris Williams
- Rachel’s brother Noah Buffett (He didn’t get a fun nickname)
When Matt Murphy talked about victims Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi, he described the two young people as kind, generous, and beloved by their families and friends.
Casting a Shadow
However, unlike during Dan Wozniak’s trial, this time Murphy introduced Sam Herr’s past legal problems during his opening.
Sam was once on trial for murder. Dan’s jury knew nothing about it (in spite of defense attorney Scott Sanders’ hard fight to have the information brought to light.) I can’t imagine Dan’s jury would have been swayed in any way by this information, but Judge Conley’s ruling to keep it out will probably be one of the MANY appellate claims to come forth in Dan’s legal future.
Reviewing the Investigation
Matt Murphy led this new jury through the beginning of the investigation step by step:
- Steve Herr, father of Sam, is concerned that he can’t reach his son.
- Steve drives to Sam’s Costa Mesa apartment to check on his son, who had been known to suffer PTSD from his combat time in Afghanistan.
- When Steve arrives at his son’s apartment, he makes a devastating discovery: the body of a young woman lying on his son’s bed. The woman looks as though she has been sexually assaulted. Steve immediately calls 911.
- Soon after, the Costa Mesa Police arrive, and the young woman is identified as Sam’s friend Julie Kibuishi.
- Sam Herr becomes the prime suspect in the murder and possible rape of Julie Kibuishi.
- Sam Herr’s ATM card is used in the city of Long Beach, and stakeouts are set up in hopes of finding Sam. This leads the police to teenager Wesley Freilich, who is using Sam’s card to order pizza.
- Wesley tells the police it was Dan Wozniak who gave him the card.
- Dan Wozniak is followed, questioned, and eventually arrested during his own bachelor party.
- After giving the police numerous false statements, Dan Wozniak finally confesses that he murdered both Sam and Julie in order to steal Sam’s money and frame Sam for Julie’s murder.
The Evidence Against Rachel
Matt Murphy then started to dig into the charges against Rachel Buffett. One of the most incriminating pieces of evidence against Rachel regarded information she told the Costa Mesa PD during early questioning.
In order to throw the police off his track early on, Daniel told the Costa Mesa PD that he last saw Sam Herr on the afternoon of May 21, 2010, driving away with a third man after dropping off Dan at the Camden Apartments.
This was a big ol’ lie, and during Dan’s later interrogation, he admitted there was no third man at all.
The problem for Rachel was that she also claimed to see Sam with this mysterious man in a black baseball cap. Rachel told the Costa Mesa Police that this third man was a friend of Sam’s and she didn’t personally know the guy even though she said the man was in her apartment on the morning Sam “went missing.” At that point, the police already knew the story was a lie. There was no third man.
Oh… No She Didn’t
I’m going to jump ahead for a minute so you don’t get your hopes up for some big bombshell. Rachel Buffett did not testify during her trial. She did not personally give a reason as to why she lied to the police. That was left up to her attorney to explain.
Considering that Rachel Buffett waited years for her day in court, I have to wonder if she now regrets not getting on the stand. A defendant does not have to testify, and the jury isn’t supposed to hold that against her.
But why didn’t Rachel Buffett face Matt Murphy on the stand? Why did she turn down a plea deal to testify against Daniel Wozniak during his trial?
She wanted the world to know she was also one of his victims, but she wasn’t willing to testify to that claim.
Yes, I will explain my theories (based on numerous conversations with Dan) in my book.
Matt Murphy gave Rachel’s jury (which was predominantly male) the story of Daniel Wozniak’s confession.
- Sam was murdered for his money. Dan was going to use Wesley to empty out Sam’s account $400 a day. Dan wanted the money to take Rachel on an amazing honeymoon.
- Dan murdered Sam Herr in the attic of the Liberty Theater, which was located on a military base in Los Alamitos.
- Dan cut off Sam’s head and hands and disposed of them in a park.
- Dan then lured Julie Kibuishi to Sam’s apartment using Sam’s cell phone. Julie Kibuishi went to Sam’s apartment thinking she was there to help her friend who supposedly was going through some emotional turmoil.
- Dan Wozniak met Julie at Sam’s apartment and led her inside.
- Dan shot Julie twice in the head.
- Dan set the scene to look as though Sam had murdered and raped Julie Kibuishi and then disappeared.
During Dan Wozniak’s trial, Matt Murphy asked the jury to believe the entirety of Dan’s confession. However, during Rachel Buffett’s trial, Murphy made accusations that in that confession were lies regarding Rachel’s involvement with the murders of Sam and Julie.
During Daniel’s trial, Rachel Buffett was made out to be a hero who helped solve two murders, but it seemed like Murphy’s opinion of Rachel changed a bit when it came time to put her on trial.
Even texts from Sam Herr’s cell phone were analyzed during Murphy’s opening statement. He pointed out that when Dan Wozniak was alone with the phone, the texts to Julie were innocuous. But as soon as Dan was home with Rachel, the “Sam” texts turned into desperate requests for Julie to come over to the Camden Apartments.
Ironically, this exact point was made by Scott Sanders while defending Dan Wozniak.
When it was time for defense attorney, David Medina, to give his opening statement, Matt Murphy introduced Medina as an extremely professional attorney for which Matt has the upmost respect.
Side note – This was one of many not-so-subtle digs at Scott Sanders.
Defense Attorney David Medina’s Opening Statement
David Medina started off telling the jury that Daniel Wozniak is a monster, a psychopath, and a pathological liar. Dan is a loser. Dan is evil. Dan Wozniak couldn’t properly provide for Rachel Buffett, and he knew it. He lied to Rachel about every aspect of their lives together because he didn’t feel worthy of her.
Medina said Rachel knew absolutely nothing about Dan’s involvement with the murders of Sam and Julie before his arrest and confession. That it was Rachel who led the police to a treasure trove of evidence against Dan and “blew the case wide open.” It was Rachel who “got Dan to confess on the phone.” And it was Rachel Buffett who “assisted the police in eventually convicting” Dan Wozniak of two murders (even though she refused to testify against him).
Hmmm – I wonder if that argument sounded familiar to Matt Murphy?
…I will get into the witnesses for the prosecution.
12 thoughts on “Rachel Buffett Faces Justice? (Part One)”
Thank you for posting all this. I only became aware of this blog recently, and it has helped fill in some of the questions I had. I live out of state, so it was not possible for me to attend the trial.
I smell musical. This bizarre story needs to be put to music complete with choreography!
With Dan directing it from prison? He has time on his very dirty hands.
He already starred in the “real” version.
I know! I just need someone to write the music :)
Other than accessory after the fact, what do the police believe was her role? Do they think she instigated the process, come up with the idea of robbing Sam, did he tell her what he had done? So many questions, that I am sure you will touch on at some part.
I have a question you may or may not be able to answer. If Rachel has been tried on the accessory to murder, and the find out she actually did have more involvement (duh), can they then bring additional charges? Something akin to double jeopardy???
It depends on the state, but typically the prosecution only gets to have one theory of the crime. Rachel either was directly involved before the fact or after the fact. The prosecution has said there won’t be any more evidence that will come out and, even though there’s some evidence that Rachel knew before the crimes occurred, it may not have been provable beyond a reasonable doubt.
The issue Murphy may have is that in Daniel’s trial, he presented Rachel’s knowledge and involvement differently than he did in her trial. No new evidence has come forward between those two cases and Rachel had been charged previous to Daniel’s trial. Rachel could use that as a basis for an appeal and, perhaps, Daniel could to appeal the death penalty. However, there’s still plenty of evidence of their guilt and the appeals court very well could say despite the inconsistencies with how Murphy portrayed Rachel, it may not be enough to overturn either case.
Rachel will not face double jeopardy if she is charged with murder after the lying to the police conviction because the elements of the crimes are different.
I think Matt Murphy chose Rachel’s charges very carefully. In the future, if evidence surfaces to show Rachel was involved in the actual murders, Murphy still has plenty of other charges available to him.
Why did Dan’s parents threaten to financially cut him off if he married Rachel? Why didn’t they like her?
I’d like to know the answer to that same exact question. Why didn’t they like Rachel — what was it about her that they were opposed to? Was it that she came from a weird family or had a weird past or personality – that she was too controlling of Dan…what was it?
Thank you for responding! I think getting to the bottom of why Dan’s parents did not like Rachel would be an excellent addition to your book. It would possibly paint a better picture of Rachel’s personality and add validity as to who she really is. Parents see things in the persons we get ourselves involved with that we are somehow blind to. Just a thought!