Courtroom 41 at the Orange County Superior Courthouse was all a-buzz on the morning of November 8, 2018 for the sentencing of Rachel Buffett. This was Rachel’s first appearance since this past September, when a jury found her guilty of two counts of accessory to murder after the fact.
Julie Kibuishi’s and Sam Herr’s loved ones filled many of the spectator seats on the right side of the courtroom. The media and a camera crew were also set up over there, so I returned to the back row behind the blond coalition.
There was an outlet in the back corner on that side, too. Good to know.
Throughout her entire trial, Rachel Buffett always had plenty of defenders sitting behind her. On Thursday her friends and family were there in abundance.
While sitting behind Rachel’s supporters, I wondered if the group would better be described as “blond, red, or a shaved head.”
I was distracted that morning. The sentencing hearing was set to begin at 9:00 am, and I needed to be at my son’s high school by 11:30 because I was volunteering at a Red Cross blood drive. I forgot to bring the notebook I’d been using to take all my court notes. I didn’t bring any paper at all. I had to use a small notepad I found in the bottom of my glovebox that was cut in a shape of a t-shirt and came from the American Girls doll store.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Nine o’clock came and went without any signs the hearing was ready to begin. The judge and the attorneys were likely in chambers working though some details beforehand.
Because of my theatre background, I always have to remind myself I’m not an audience member waiting for a show to start. Still, when attorneys Matt Murphy and David Medina entered the courtroom through the door to the judge’s quarters (which I think of as “backstage”), I was pleased to see them finally “getting into places.”
Prosecuting attorney Matt Murphy looked genuinely cheerful as he hunted around the desks of the bailiff and court reporter for some sugar to put in his coffee. In contrast, David Medina’s expression was grim as he sat quietly at the defense table flipping through his notes.
The moods of the lawyers epitomized those of the spectators as well. Rachel’s people looked worried and nervous. I felt bad for them. I’m sure they believe Rachel has been unfairly punished for the actions of her ex-fiancée Daniel Wozniak.
The Herrs and the Kibuishis seemed as though a large weight was lifted off their shoulders since Rachel’s jury had said, “Guilty.”
The room quieted down the moment they brought Rachel in. The only sounds were the snap, snap, snap of cameras trying to get a good picture of her in that light blue jail-issued jumpsuit.
Medina leaned over to whisper something reassuring to his client.
Snap. Snap. Snap.
Rachel looked disheartened. After spending a couple of months behind bars, her previous courtroom confidence had disappeared. Her long blond hair was in a twist and hanging over one shoulder.
Snap. Snap. Snap.
This is probably not the type of paparazzi attention Rachel always dreamed of.
Or is it?
The last six weeks have flown by for me, but I’m sure that wasn’t the case for the Buffett family since they’d watched Rachel being handcuffed and taken into custody in September.
The Hearing Gets Underway
I was relieved when the proceedings finally got under way at 9:50 am, because I was getting concerned I’d have to leave before the actual sentencing (brave teenagers needed their juice and cookies).
A Chance For Probation?
The hearing began with the defense’s request for probation and time served.
Probation is no picnic. Rachel would have to live under some pretty strict rules, or quickly wind up back in jail.
She would have to consent to police searches of her home, car or other property at any time without explanation. Drug use or possession, consorting with other felons, or owning weapons or ammunition are all probations violations.
These conditions sound intimidating… until you compare them to being behind bars.
Judge Hanson spoke of the factors she needed to weigh while deciding Rachel Buffett’s sentence. Hanson pointed out that Rachel had no criminal record and the court was “required” to take that into consideration. The judge had received numerous letters in support of Rachel from the young woman’s friends and family. And Rachel herself wrote a letter to Hanson explaining her willingness to comply with probation, if it were granted to her.
It was not.
At least, not immediately. Rachel’s time behind bars wasn’t ending quite yet.
Judge Hanson pointed out how Rachel, her friends, and her family have never appreciated the gravity of Rachel’s own crimes.
Judge Hanson looked directly at Rachel Buffet and told her she lied. She acted on her own. Rachel’s role was far beyond that of merely accessory to murder.
Hanson believed Rachel planned the false statements she gave to law enforcement. And Rachel still hasn’t shown any acknowledgment of her own guilt. Hanson chided Rachel for having no remorse or regrets for her own actions, and Rachel is still blaming everything on Dan Wozniak.
Judge Hanson wanted Rachel to know she broke the law, and she’s responsible for her actions.
Before telling Rachel her fate, the judge opened the floor for victim impact statements.
A number of people from both the Herr and the Kibuishi families gave impact statements during Daniel Wozniak’s trial. In Rachel’s trial, June Kibuishi and Steve Herr were the only speakers. Two grieving parents spoke in honor of their two murdered children.
I wonder why other family members didn’t speak this time around. I’d guess they feel more anger toward Daniel than toward Rachel. Dan Wozniak had faced the death penalty or life behind bars. The numerous testimonials were probably taken into consideration when deciding Daniel’s fate.
June Kibuishi’s Statement
June Kibuishi thanked Judge Hanson for always making the victims’ families a priority, and she expressed sincere gratitude to the Costa Mesa Police, Matt Murphy and everyone in the DA’s office. Julie’s mom then politely asked permission to address Rachel directly.
“Weddings are supposed to be full of love and happiness,” June began. “Your wedding would have been rooted in murder.”
June pointed out that Rachel has lived a normal and happy life since her daughter, Julie, was murdered eight years ago. Rachel breathed fresh air while Sam’s and Julie’s families grieved. June Kibuishi would never get to see her daughter fulfill her dreams of having a fashion career. She would never see her daughter as a bride, or a mom.
June Kibuishi’s voice cracked. “Julie would have been a wonderful mom because of her big heart.”
June aimed her next statement directly at Rachel.
“Julie thought of you as a friend.”
Julie was excited for Rachel and Daniel’s wedding. Rachel was never a true friend to Julie or Sam, June claimed, and she didn’t deserve the love and friendship they showed her.
Instead of showing any remorse, June pointed out, Rachel made TV appearances claiming to be a victim herself. Julie’s heartbroken mother told Rachel that she and “that monster” (Daniel) are self centered, heartless, and “two peas in a pod.”
June Kibuishi asked a poignant question regarding Rachel’s ever-present family members: Why didn’t Rachel and Daniel turn to Rachel’s family for help instead of murdering two innocent people?
Her statement ended with a hope that Rachel will live every day regretting her “disgusting decisions.”
Steve Herr’s Statement
Steve Herr also thanked the judge and all the people who worked on this case. He explained how the police and the members of the DA team have become like family over the past eight years.
Steve then went on to describe Julie Kibuishi. She was a beautiful, smart and talented young woman. She was a good friend to his son, who was a decorated combat veteran. Sam had plans for a bright future that included getting a college degree and returning to the Army to become an officer.
None of this, Steve said, had meant anything to Rachel Buffett. She didn’t care about Sam, Julie or their families. She lied to the police. She lied to her friends. She lied to the newspapers. And she lied to the nation.
While the decapitated body of Steve Herr’s only child was lying on that attic floor, Rachel lied to the police. While wild animals ravaged the pieces of Sam’s body, dumped at the El Dorado Nature Center, Rachel told lies about seeing the man in the black hat.
Rachel Buffett lied to protect her “monster” fiancée. Steve Herr was most disgusted by Rachel’s direct lies about Sam in an attempt to “throw him under the bus.” Rachel purposefully knew exactly when she was doing when she attempted to frame Sam as a murderer and rapist. She spread false information that Sam had a bad relationship with his family. She didn’t care who she hurt.
“Rachel just thinks about Rachel.”
Before the hearing began that morning, Raquel Herr spotted me sitting in my corner. With a kind smile on her face, she mouthed “hi” to me. The Herrs are always so gracious and upbeat. Daniel Wozniak killed their only child. It’s no wonder they see him as a monster.
Steve Herr then pointed out something I’d never considered before.
Because Sam was murdered on a military base, both Rachel and Dan could have been prosecuted in Federal court. Rachel might have faced up to fifteen years in prison for her charges.
Steve Herr told Rachel Buffett that she will get out of jail one day. She will be with her family.
Steve and Raquel will never see their son again. They’ll never hear his voice again. They can never hug their son again. And, as they have done every week for the past eight and a half years, they can only say, “I love you” to their son’s grave.
Steve Herr asked Judge Hanson to give Rachel the maximum sentence: 44 months in prison. Rachel has shown no compassion or remorse, he declared, and so she deserves no leniency in her sentence.
A Plea From Costa Mesa Police Detective Ed Everett
The Herrs and the Kibuishi’s weren’t the only ones who wanted to see Rachel get the maximum amount of time behind bars. Judge Hanson received a letter from Costa Mesa detective Lt. Ed Everett, who firmly believes Rachel wasn’t just an accessory after the fact, but that she participated in the planning and the murders.
If Everett had his way, Rachel would spend the rest of her life in prison just like her ex-fiancée Daniel Wozniak. Judge Hanson acknowledged the detective’s concerns, but also said that couldn’t be taken into consideration for Rachel’s current sentence.
Rachel’s Kinda-Sorta Apology
When the victim impact statements were finished, Judge Sheila Hanson offered Rachel an opportunity to speak in court. Rachel was told there was no pressure on her at all to make a statement. Rachel decided to do it.
During Daniel’s sentencing hearing, he chose to remain silent. He didn’t think anything he could say would ease the pain of the families.
Sometimes he wonders if that was the right decision. Should he have at least attempted to apologize in court? I thought it was a smart decision to just sit there and quietly listen to the victims’ loved ones and their expressions of grief. Silence is golden. In addition, so much has been made of Daniel Wozniak being an “actor,” the sincerity of anything he said would be doubted.
Rachel Buffett chose a different approach. I have to say, I think Daniel made the right decision, because I can’t imagine Sam and Julie’s loved ones gained any solace from the apathetic and excuse-ridden speech Rachel read aloud in court.
“I’ve always wanted to express my condolences to the Herr and Kibuishi families and offer support. But I assumed that any contact from me, a complete stranger before this case, would not be welcomed or helpful. So I sought to be respectful by giving them space. I hope my silence hasn’t been misinterpreted as callous. I’m also so sorry that any of my actions caused more pain to the Herr and Kibuishi families. I wish Sam and Julie were still here. I wish I could have done something to save them. I wish I’d never met Daniel Wozniak.”
I think we can all agree with her on that point. Everyone wishes she’d never met Daniel Wozniak.
“I wish I’d never let him into my life. I wish I saw him for the liar and the manipulator that he was from day one. And I wish there was something I could do to fix this now. My heart goes out to the Herr and Kibuishi families and they will always be in my thoughts and prayers.”
Did I miss the part where she apologized for her own actions?
Judge Hanson handed down a sentence that wasn’t quite the maximum, but it was no mere slap on the wrist either.
Count One: twenty-four months
Count Two: eight months
Rachel will serve the two sentences consecutively, not concurrently. She has to finish serving the first sentence before she can start the second one.
Rachel will stay put in the Orange County women’s central jail. She won’t do any actual prison time. She’s beginning her sentence with seventy-nine days credit for the time she’s already served, and another seventy-nine days for her good behavior.
In general, a person receives “good conduct” credit at a rate equal to the actual time served. Every 24 hours she is in jail counts as forty-eight hours towards her sentence term, a “2 for 1” deal. So, she will likely spend more or less one year in jail.
Judge Hanson also specifically included 180 days of supervised release for the end of Rachel’s sentence. As soon as Rachel walks out of jail, all those strict probation rules will kick in.
Rachel was also sentenced to pay $2,016 to the Kibuishi family for lost wages.
The sentencing hearing ended. Rachel was put back in handcuffs. She quickly glanced back at her family
Snap. Snap. Snap
And then she was taken out of the courtroom.
Matt Murphy’s Post-Sentencing Press Conference
Court adjourned at 10:45 am. I was heading for the elevators thirty seconds later. Not only would I make it to the high school by 11:30, I even had enough time to drive through Del Taco and grab an egg burrito.
I was handing a metal can of Ocean Spray cranberry juice to a kid with a bandage on his arm when I got a text. It was from someone who’d also attended Rachel’s hearing that morning.
“Bad day for u to leave early.”
Are you sure about that? The burrito was delicious.
Matt Murphy held a press conference, and he dropped a dramatic bombshell.
Hindsight being 20/20, the burrito would have lost.
During the press conference, Murphy explained all the “good conduct” credit and “2 for 1” stuff. He acknowledged Rachel won’t spend 44 months in jail, but she will spend the rest of her life as convicted felon. Her role in the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi will follow her forever.
Short Sentence. Life-Long Payback.
Most people these days will search the name of a potential date or new friend. A simple search of “Rachel Buffett” will produce a wealth of information about her conviction for lying to the police and hindering a murder investigation.
Matt Murphy said Rachel Buffett had been pursing a degree in psychology prior to her incarceration. Rachel might have some trouble finding clients who are willing to spill their intimate secrets to a convicted accessory to murder.
Even more than her actual time in jail, Rachel’s real punishment will be dealing with the rest of her life.
I’m sure the members of the blonde coalition aren’t the only people who think Rachel was completely duped by Dan Wozniak. To them it must seem so unfair to see this young woman so harshly punished when her only mistake was picking the wrong man to love.
Other people think Rachel Buffett got away with murder… so far. Who knows what the future will bring? Detective Ed Everett doesn’t seem like a guy to just give up if he thinks justice has not been served.
I’m not suggesting Rachel should be in prison instead of Daniel. I don’t think anyone believes that. Certainly not Daniel.
But if Rachel Buffett was an active participant in the planning and execution of Julie’s and Sam’s murders, she should never walk free again.
Working the System Already (Again?)
While I was consuming eggs and cheese wrapped in a warm tortilla and smothered in Del Scorcho sauce, Matt Murphy told the media that Rachel got beaten up in jail by some other inmates. She is now being held in special housing.
I was surprised to hear she wasn’t already in protective custody. Most people who have been arrested in relation to this case are immediately put in special housing.
Someone suggested to me that Rachel could have caused the fight on purpose, and didn’t defend herself so she could enjoy the benefits of protective custody (more privacy and more personal space).
I’ve heard tell Rachel can pack a punch if she wants to.
Now That Rachel’s In Jail…
Rachel’s trial is over, and I’m all caught up with the blog. The holidays are upon us. I’m going to be busy with my family, and I want to focus more time on completing my book. I’m sorry I won’t have much content for guys in the next little while.
This is the ninth time the Herr and Kibuishi families will have an empty seat at their Thanksgiving dinner. The Wozniak and Buffett families are missing loved ones as well. But they can visit a person, and not a grave.
June Kibuishi described the loss of her daughter as “a pain that will never truly heal.”
Thank you all so much for reading DWIMF the blog. If anything happens regarding Daniel’s case, or there’s just interesting news from San Quentin, I promise to blog about it. ASAP!
Your Questions and Comments
If you have any questions for Daniel – about life in San Quentin and not about the case, you’re welcome to leave a comment right here on this post and I will pass them on to him.
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