Let the Trial Begin

court_doors_900x470When I went to hearings for Daniel’s case in the past, I’d park in the same structure as when I visit the jail.  It’s about a ten minute walk to the Santa Ana Superior Courthouse.  On my route, I pass a little homeless camp; a very polite and unobtrusive group of people. I like going the “back way” because then my impatient self doesn’t have to  maneuver around all the (rightfully unenthusiastic) jurors on the Civic Center Drive sidewalk.

(I’m probably going to walk with jurors from now on though, you know, since I just told you where I walk and I have some pretty extreme commentators on this blog.)

Everything was as per usual on Wednesday, December 9th… that is, until I walked past a row of news vans on the way. I was pretty sure they were there for the same reason I was.

That was the opening day of Daniel’s trial: the guilt phase.

The penalty phase comes after the guilt phase. The interesting thing I’ve noticed is, in court hearings, the penalty phase is discussed as though it’s inevitable. It is never called the possible penalty phase.

I wonder if that is the norm? Is is always assumed the defendant will be found guilty, and that a penalty phase will be necessary?

There was an unusually long line to get through the metal detectors at the front entrance of the courthouse.  I hadn’t seen it snake out the door before. Inside, it took the elevators an inordinate amount of time to make their way to the first floor.

I made jokes with strangers about placing bets on which elevator would arrive first.

“Those two are neck and neck! Which one will win?”

“My money is on elevator 3!”

As soon as one arrived, I shoved myself in and let the claustrophobia attack begin.

Courtroom 30 is on the eighth floor. I’d been there before, and usually had my pick of where to sit. I wasn’t at all prepared for the crowd I found when I opened one of the double doors.

The place was packed. I chided myself for not realizing this would be the case.  Duh! It is the biggest court case in Orange County this year. At least that’s what an OC Register reporter later told me.

Seats were saved with coats and purses. People milled around in the aisles. Discussions happened in little groups. Photographers and a TV camera were set up in the front by the jury box.

I was hoping to sit where Daniel might catch a glimpse of me. Maybe I could be a friendly face in the crowd. He’d told me I should sit “stage right / audience left,” so there was a possibility he could see me when he looked at his lawyer. I was lucky to even find a seat near the back.

I made a note to ask Daniel why the row directly behind the defense table was blocked off with two heavy black chairs.   Later, he told me he wasn’t sure, but thought it might be to keep an empty pathway in case the crowd needed an emergency exit.

I’m not sure why, but I was surprised to see all the lawyers “on stage” already. Coming from the world of the theatre, I kind of expected a dramatic entrance.  I wanted to see Matt Murphy and Scott Sanders coming in with a big musical number.

It would have been apropos, if you ask me. I wonder if either of them knows how to tap dance.

Nothing special happened when Judge Conely sat down at his bench, either.  I wrote down another question for Daniel: “Where was the ‘all rise’ and the ‘you may be seated?'”

It wasn’t until the bailiffs brought Daniel into the courtroom that the mood shifted. This was probably the first time a lot of these people had ever seen him in person. Does he look dangerous to other people? He was wearing gray slacks and a blue pinstripe shirt. His hair and beard looked neatly combed and trimmed. I asked him about it later, and he agreed: it was nice to wear street clothes.

They sat Daniel in his usual spot at the defense table and took off his handcuffs. I got the feeling he was trying to look as blank-faced as possible. He’s a naturally “smiley” guy, so that’s probably a challenge for him.

I can’t imagine being under the scrutiny he’s experiencing. There is no facial expression he can make that will not be judged harshly. No nod or finger tap is safe. The bailiffs prefer he just sit still and face the front wall. This is limiting, but probably the best choice.

Directly across from the jury box was a large built-in projector screen that comes down from the ceiling.  It felt ominous in spite of the “beach scene with surfer” screen saver.  You know we were all wondering what they were going to show up there.

I was excited to get a look at the jury as they were brought in. Daniel had said they were a diverse mix of people when we talked on the telephone the night before. He was right. Males, females, different races and ages. It was an impressive variety, especially for Orange County.

Judge Conley started everything off by giving very thorough jury instructions. He had a slight sing-song quality to his voice, like when you’re explaining something complicated to a group of extremely intelligent children: You know they are smart enough to understand what you’re saying, but you still want to be as simple and clear as possible.

Then, we were off and running.

District Attorney Matt Murphy was up first with the prosecution’s opening remarks. This was the first time I’d had trouble hearing his voice in court.  He seemed to be speaking only for the jury.  Quiet and intimate. People around me complained that he needed to be mic’ed, but I think he was forcing us all to listen hard.

For the next two hours, he gave us an intimidating list of coming attractions as he laid out his case against Daniel Wozniak.

I already knew the main story of this crime.  Daniel is accused of murdering his neighbor, Samuel Herr, on May 21, 2010, and then drain Sam’s bank account.  He is also accused of killing Sam’s friend and tutor, Julie Kibuishi, in Sam’s apartment, on May 22, 2010. This was allegedly an attempt to frame Sam for Julie’s death. Daniel is also accused of dismembering Sam’s body and discarding the parts in a park.

During Murphy’s opening remarks, he talked about a number of aspects of the case that I hadn’t heard before.

  1. A backpack filled with Sam Herr’s belongings was found in the yard of Daniel’s parents’ next door neighbors.
  2. The police are in possession of the gun that was used to kill both Sam and Julie. It’s registered to Daniel’s father. It was turned in to the Long Beach Police by a friend of Daniel’s brother, Tim (who is also facing accessory charges).
  3. Daniel told the young man who actually withdrew money from Sam’s account to wear a hat and sunglasses.
  4. A mysterious drawing was found in Sam’s apartment. Murphy pointed out that it looked like an Asian woman on a bed with flames drawn around her head.
  5. A wedding invitation for Daniel and Rachel’s wedding was also found in Sam’s apartment.
  6. The police think that there are handwriting comparisons between the writing on the envelope for the invitation and the writing on Julie’s clothing when she was found dead in Sam’s apartment.
  7. Julie sometimes spent the night at Sam’s apartment, but Murphy adamantly claimed that the relationship was purely platonic.
  8. Some pretty incriminating Internet searches were found on a computer that had been in Daniel and Rachel’s possession.
  9. There is a recording of a phone call that Daniel made to Rachel from jail after his arrest. Murphy said that it implicates both of them in the crime.

So much of this was new to me.  Some of it was new to Daniel, as well.

The defense chose to waive its right to an opening argument at this time. Daniel told me that Scott Sanders has never done this before.

It all looks pretty bad for Daniel if Matt Murphy can prove everything he says happened.

So, how do I feel about all this evidence against my friend?

Well, so far this is all the prosecution’s story, and I want to see it proven.

I’m going to attempt a sports metaphor here.

Let’s say you have a favorite football team. It’s your home team, but they have a terrible record.  You’re watching a game between your team and the highest ranked team in the league. You really don’t expect your team to win. The odds are against them. The stats look terrible before they even got on the field. Still, you’d like to see a different ending.

But if your team doesn’t deserve to win… maybe they don’t practice, maybe they cheat, maybe they tried to give the other team’s star quarterback food poisoning….you will know in your heart they deserve to lose, but you will still support your team.

Next week – The witnesses for the prosecution.

Update: Both prosecution and defense rested on December 15.  Prosecution finished with its witnesses.  Defense didn’t call any.  I have a lot to catch you up on readers!

That Surprised Me

Author’s Note: Much of what I write about on this site is anecdotal information related to me by Daniel Wozniak and other sources. In many cases, this information is not verifiable, and should not necessarily be taken as fact.

I recently had dinner with a couple of close friends who have been supportive of my blog.  They asked what was new and bizarre in my world and I told them that Steve Herr, the father of victim Sam Herr, had commented on the blog’s Facebook page.

They both gasped.  Actual simultaneous gasps.  Then they jumped on their phones so they could read the exchange.

Between bites of my vegan truffle burger, I pointed out that Steve Herr was very cordial in his postings. Unlike some previous commenters, he did not personally attack me for being friends with Daniel.

If I were asked to come up with an adjective to describe Steve Herr’s tone, it would be “frustrated.”

I’d imagined that eventually there would be some sort of contact between me and the victims’ families, and I won’t lie to you, the prospect of it made me very nervous.

I’m not ashamed of my friendship with Daniel Wozniak, but I understand that most people believe he is a vicious killer. Certainly no one has the right to feel that way more than the loved ones of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.

So, if Steve Herr had started throwing names and accusations toward me, no one could blame him.

He didn’t.

These two families have suffered unimaginable grief over the murders of their children, but to make matters worse, they have been waiting more than 5 years for some kind of justice and closure.  There seems to be no end in sight.

Let me take my friendship with Daniel out of the equation here for a moment…

  • If my child had been brutally murdered…
  • If someone had confessed to the murder…
  • If that person then pleaded “not guilty” and 5 years later, he still hadn’t been to trial…
  • If the proceedings were being held up because the defense attorney was throwing around a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo that seemed like it had NO relevance to my child’s murder case…

Well, I’m pretty sure I’d be losing it!  I think I would despise the accused killer and want nothing more than to see him suffer for what he did to my family.  Also, I’d be pretty pissed off is someone was publicly announcing a friendship with him.

But Steve Herr had only a request for me:

Ask Dan one question; Did he murder Sam and Julie? Then, post his answer. Everything you have posted is conjecture, which is your right. However, just ask him that one question. His response, whatever he says, should make great reading!”

I have asked tough questions,  and I will continue to ask without expecting answers… at least not necessarily true answers.  I’ve never bothered to go into much detail about Daniel’s responses, because they are purposefully vague and contradictory.  He has definitely learned his way around legalese in the past five years, and he’s a little cocky about it too.

Nonetheless, I didn’t want Steve Herr (or anyone else for that matter) to think that I don’t care about the truth.  I do.  I just don’t know what it is.  Conjecture is all I have.

I tried my best to reply to his question, and I gave my opinion based on what Daniel has and hasn’t told me.  I suggested that maybe Daniel didn’t murder Sam and Julie.  It’s not surprising Steve Herr wrote back that Daniel is lying to me.

I never forget that Daniel might lie to me about the case.  From the beginning, I kind of assumed he would, or at least that he’d keep the truth from me.

Accused murderers get interviewed all the time.  When some guy in an orange jumpsuit tells Dateline‘s Keith Morrison that he’s never hurt a fly – well, I think maybe we all listen with a bit of skepticism.

Daniel and I talked on the phone a couple of days later, and I was completely dumbfounded when he told me that Steve Herr had gone to the judge with the accusation that important information about the case was being shared with me, a person with a public forum.

That surprised me.

Update: Mr. Herr has said that he did not go to the judge with this accusation and that he’s never mentioned this blog. I want to remind everyone, as I wrote, the above paragraphs refer to a conversation I had with Daniel, and must be considered anecdotal. I apologize for any confusion or upset this may have caused, and urge readers to consider the source and the context of everything they read on this site, particularly information provided by Daniel and other principles in this case. — murderermusings

We live in a world where almost anyone can have a public forum at the push of a button.

I spend a lot of time thinking and re-thinking about everything I write in this blog.  I don’t take it lightly that there are real human beings behind this story and they are in pain.  I’ve worried – a lot – about having what I write be misinterpreted.

So what to do?  I do my best.

I do my best to be honest and clear.  I do my best to be thoughtful and considerate. I do my best to not judge without facts, and to interpret what I am given.  I do my best to engage and entertain the reader.

I have my editor and my writer friends read over all my posts before they get published. Sometimes one of them might even suggest a title for the post that I think is clever and attention grabbing – later to learn that it just caused more courtroom drama.

It turns out that the title  of my post, “This Is How Daniel Bought Me Lunch,” may have been misunderstood.

It was a joke.  I’m going to add humor to my posts, but I don’t mean to be disrespectful.

I can unequivocally state that Daniel did not arrange for the producer of 20/20 to buy me a $7.00 mini pizza and an iced tea.  He has no control over what I write on my blog, and he is not trying to bribe me with the lunch special at CPK.

That was another tidbit that was brought up in court last Friday.  I’m glad I was out of town visiting family during that one.  I’m not sure how I would have reacted if I’d been there.  I’m guessing I would just sink down into the wooden bench and try to keep a blank expression on my face.

Since I wasn’t there, everything I know about the blog being mentioned in court was told to me by Daniel.

There was a comment on the Facebook page hinting that telling me this information was Daniel’s way of flirting with me. (Um, it totally is, btw — The Editor Who Suggested That Troublesome Title)

The idea of using, “Hey beautiful, I know I’m an accused murderer and I might get the death penalty, but since I got your blog mentioned in court, well I thought that might win you over,” made my stomach hurt with laughter. In my head, I heard the words in the voice of Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords, especially as heard in the song “Business Time.”

I’m not going to pretend that I’m writing as a journalist.  I’m friends with Daniel.

That does not negate my ability to believe that he may be guilty… of everything.

I do occasionally question and play devil’s advocate when aspects of the case make no sense to me. That doesn’t mean I’m working toward any personal end-game as far as how this all plays out.

I’m just sharing my opinions and thoughts, and discussing what it is like to be friends with the man at the center of this storm.

What I write often shows the human side of Daniel. I am sorry if that is hurtful for some. I’m simply trying to share my experiences.

Human beings are complicated.  That’s just how it is. It’s never black and white. If People can call him the “Grisly Groom,” and make him look like a terrifying monster, then why can’t a blogger write about his human side?

That’s what the next post will be all about: Showing the side of Daniel that I get to see.  I’ll share some of favorite “Danielisms” with you.