Was A Victim Also A Killer?

During one of my earliest visits with Daniel Wozniak, I asked him about something he’d mentioned in a recent letter.

While listing off people who had come to visit him at the Orange County Jail, Daniel had told me that Steve Herr (father of murder victim Samuel Herr) had actually been there more than once.

This surprised the hell out of me.

Why would Steve Herr want to sit across from the man he believes murdered and mutilated his only son?

“He really wants to know the truth,” Daniel told me,  “and I don’t think he trusts the justice system because of what happened in Sam’s own murder case.”

“Sorry… what was that again?” He’d lost me.  I was pretty sure that Daniel was currently in jail for “Sam’s murder case.”

Then Daniel gave me a brief and completely surprising explanation: In 2002, long before Daniel ever met Samuel Herr, there had been a different murder associated with that name.  However, in that case, Herr was the accused.

Daniel went on to surmise that possibly Steve Herr was worried that Daniel would “walk free,” just as his own son did years earlier.  He didn’t know many of the details, but the main point was not lost on me.

Sam Herr was once a defendant.

Of course I started Internet searching as soon as I got home.   I kept thinking, “as if this case wasn’t crazy enough…”  The thing is, I couldn’t find anything about a murder case involving Sam Herr… well, aside from his own murder.

I didn’t believe that Daniel was lying to me, but I thought of myself as pretty sleuth-y, and it was weird that there was nothing to find.  Maybe Daniel was confused about this… maybe he misunderstood…

When I eventually questioned him about the story, he didn’t know why I couldn’t find any information.  He thought it was odd, but when you get right down to it, Daniel has a lot occupying his mind, so worrying about my inabilities to do a Google search wasn’t his top priority.

It turns out that some of you readers are better Internet detectives than I am.

This morning I got an interesting surprise on this blog’s Facebook page.  One of you discovered there actually are a few news articles out there about Herr’s other murder case.  These are stories that tell of a very different side to Army vet Sam Herr. Given those leads, I was able to find two articles from The L.A. Times and one from The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Here’s the rundown:  When Samuel Herr was 19 years old, he was tried for murder because of his alleged role in the stabbing death of another 19-year-old named Byron Benito.

According to Benito’s mother, Benito and Herr had been close friends. In fact, prosecutors stated that it was Samuel Herr who picked up Benito at his house and then, on the night of January 15, 2002, led his unsuspecting friend to an area behind a mobile home park, where he was attacked and killed by a group of suspected gang members… one of which was Herr.

The police believed that Benito was killed as gang retaliation for another murder, even though he was not associated with a gang himself.

There were some accused who just plead guilty right away, accepting fifteen years to life prison sentences.

That left 11 defendants to face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.  The DA decided to hold two separate trials, seemingly because there were so many being charged, and each defendant had a separate lawyer.  Samuel Herr would be part of the second trial.

So… what happened?

All five defendants from the first trial were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The remaining 6, the ones from the second trial, were all acquitted.  They walked out the courtroom as free men.

From what I’ve read, an eyewitness who had testified in the first trial didn’t do so in the second.

Was that the big turning point?  Is one witness the reason that some people are behind bars and others got off Scott-free?

Who knows what leads a jury to finding someone guilty or innocent?  Maybe someone looked at Sam and saw a handsome and charming young man who they refused to believe was a violent gang member and a murderer.

Maybe Sam was innocent.

The articles I read made Sam seem like a cold and calculating murderer. Perhaps you can’t believe everything you read.

I wasn’t in the courtroom.  I didn’t hear the evidence.  I’m assuming that Sam’s parents were there, though.  I’d be surprised if they hadn’t been there supporting their son during his murder trial.

They must have been elated when he was found “not guilty.”

Does that mean now they fear that the judicial system will work to Daniel’s benefit in the same way?

Was justice served in Byron Benito’s case?

I have to wonder if there were some people that were not elated when Sam was acquitted.

Jail Visit (Part 2)

I expect the visit to start at exactly two o’clock, but when nothing seems to be happening,  of course I’m immediately worried I’m waiting in the wrong place. Which is dumb, because there’s only one place to wait.

After five more minutes, the Deputy who checked me in comes through a door in the back of the booth.  She carries a handful of white papers and her walk to the center of the waiting area is determined.  She calls out, “Two o’clock visit!”

Bam! My hand pops into the air like my pre-school teacher had just asked who can spell the word cat.

No one else raises their hand.

The Deputy looks at me, and then back at the papers in her hands.


A couple in their sixties walks up and takes the paper from the deputy.

“Ohhhhhh, I get it now,” I say in a too-loud whisper.

OK.  Name is called.  Visitor walks up and takes the paper and gets in the line to the metal detector.

Finally, “Wozniak!”


Oh for God’s sake, she’s not taking attendance, I remind myself as I get my paper, say “Thank you,” and get in the line.

Another Deputy starts moving from person to person along the line, comparing picture IDs to the visitor name on the paper.   He takes my paper, looks at Daniel’s name, and then back at me.

“You haven’t been here before, right?”


“So how do you know him?” He seems genuinely curious.

“I actually met him just before his arrest, but I didn’t start writing to him until a couple months ago.”

“Wow.  It’s such a crazy story.  Do you know where you’re going?”

A weightier question for me than he knew.  “Not exactly.”

“After you go through the metal detector, head to the elevator and take it up to J.  He’ll be in J4.”  He shows me the letter J and number 4 that someone had written on the top of my paper in black Sharpie.

“Thank you,” I smile.

The line moved at a good pace.  Most of my stuff was in the locker.  I have the key on a red elastic wrist band, my paper and my ID, and I put them in the miniature white plastic basket before going through the detector.   I don’t need to remove my Vans, but I mentally note that I should never wear my black combat boots with the metal studs.

I pick up my things and walk over to the elevator to join the other waiting  visitors.

So far, so good.  In spite of having a dry mouth and pounding heart, I’m doing OK.  I really wish I could have taken my water bottle with me.  How exactly is a bottle of Arrowhead going to be a security risk?  I promise it’s not a Molotov cocktail, or I wouldn’t be drinking from it.

The elevator doors open and everyone stumbles inside. “J” was the next floor up.  I wondered what happened to floors “A” through “I.”

Even though Daniel and I had been writing back and forth for a couple of months, standing in that elevator I’m not sure if we’ll have enough to talk about to fill a one hour visit.

The elevator doors open again and two women get off.  One has a small boy with her around the age of four.  I follow them out.

Directly ahead and to the right are walls of glass. I can see down to the floor where we’d just been.  To the left is a hallway, and this is where the other visitors head.   There are no signs, just a green arrow.  It feels more like an abandoned inner city high school than a jail, and reminds me of when I taught English as a Second Language in downtown Los Angeles.

I  follow the hallway for three turns, then finally come to an end at a doorway marked with a stenciled “J.”

Inside, I see a row of metal stools butted up to a large glass window.  There are small wall dividers creating semi-private “cubicles.”  Each has a steel shelf jutting from the window and a white telephone receiver hanging from a cord coming out from the wall.  I wonder if it had actual real wires and such, or is this just a creepy game of “telephone?”

There are signs reminding you your conversations will be recorded.  Even though I don’t plan on talking about anything important, that still feels awkward.  Invasive, even.

Side note: In TV and movies, people always seem to be able to kind-of hear through the glass.  This is not true.  Sometimes, you can barely hear the other person even when you have the static-y phone pressed to your ear.  I always end up taking out my earrings because they stab into my head.

People aren’t sitting down, even though we all have papers with our cubicle numbers.  I ask the woman with the little boy about this and she explains it’s because the inmate doesn’t always get brought to the correct cubicle.  “You could be sitting in J4 and the person you’re visiting is locked in at J2.  Once they are locked in, they are stuck.”

It’s nice that other visitors were so helpful.

I do that, now.  When people are confused, I’m the person who explains how the lockers work, which is harder than you’d think.

“When you put in your quarter, do not take the key out before you close the locker door or you’ll end up with it locked open.  Then you have to put the key back in and use another quarter.”  Lady in the red shirt—if you’re reading this—thank you again for your assistance.

I see Daniel Wozniak being led by a deputy to his side of J4.   He waits patiently for the guard to open up the little cage and lock him inside.  Their conversation looks almost amiable.

Daniel wears the ubiquitous orange jumpsuit. I can see a white cotton t-shirt peeking up through the top of the V-neck.  His hands are in his pockets.  No handcuffs or leg shackles like in court.

He’s a big guy, but he looks thinner than when I’d met him at the theatre.  In spite of his height, Daniel doesn’t come off as intimidating at all.  He has a friendly and slightly sheepish smile on his face, and he’s sporting the hair style and facial hair of Hugh Jackman in Wolverine.

Yes. You did read that correctly.   He’s a huge Hugh Jackman / Wolverine fan and had done this for Halloween (obviously he didn’t go trick or treating, but I could see doing anything to pass the time).   I must say, it was pretty damn accurate.  Halloween was long over, but he hadn’t changed it yet.  He thought it was funny.  I did, too.

There was another thing about it that was weird: that day, I’d chosen to wear a Marvel t-shirt featuring Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and Wolverine.  A bizarre coincidence that we both found pretty entertaining.  Ice broken.

Turns out, we have enough to talk about for an unheard-of three hour visit.  To this day, that is still the longest visit we’ve ever had.  Usually it’s an hour, and that’s it.  I learned later that the guard told him he let the visit go on so long because it looked like we were “having a good time.”

I honestly can’t remember everything we talked about, just like you might not remember all the specifics of your dinner conversation with a friend.   There was a lot of laughing.  It was easy.

I do recall talking about how my son and I had recently been reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  I told Daniel that we watched the Gregory Peck movie version from 1962, and we got in a discussion about the possible modern casting if Hollywood were to re-make the movie today.  When Daniel jokingly suggested Tom Cruise could play 2015’s Atticus Finch,  my response was to threaten him with bodily harm (specifically a jail phone hitting him upside the head).   He pretended to cower even though we were separated by thick glass.

This has become a running joke when I visit.  He’ll says something sarcastic and immediately pretend to cower and then say, “put down the phone.”

The visit is, dare I say, fun.

I didn’t even notice that four year old boy had lifted my locker key out of my back pocket… until his mortified and extremely apologetic mother finds and returns it to me.

I know the visit is over when the deputy comes back to take Daniel out of his small cage… in order to lead him back to a slightly larger one.

Daniel thanks me for visiting and tells me he’d write soon (this first visit was long before we started also speaking on the phone).  I promise that I’ll also write him, and that I’ll visit him again.

I keep watching him as he’s walked down a set of  stairs and through a set of doors.

When I can’t see him anymore, I walk back down the hallway and get on the elevator.

Going outside, I feel like it’s sunnier, clearer, and the air smells fresher than when I got there.

I buy an ice cold Diet Coke from a vendor and head back to my car.

Jail Visit (Part One)

imageNovember 21, 2014: My first visit to the Orange County Jail.  I was totally freaked-out nervous for a bunch of reasons.

  1. Holy crap!  This guy is accused of murdering two people.
  2. It’s jail.  I feel judged even just visiting the place.
  3. Overwhelming worry that I’d mess something up and they wouldn’t let me visit.  Silly as it sounds, I don’t like to let people down.  I would’ve felt terrible if Daniel didn’t get a visit just because I couldn’t follow directions.
  4. Self-inflicted high anxiety.  I stress out because that’s what I do.  You know, maybe there would suddenly be some glitch in the Matrix and Daniel and I would switch bodies and I’d watch him walk away to freedom while I was put back in his cage.
  5. AND… holy crap…. this guy is accused of murdering two people!

Before the big day, Daniel provided me with a basic run-down of the visiting procedure:

  • Visits are on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8 am – 5 pm.   You need to arrive fifteen minutes before the hour.  This is not nearly enough time for my comfort level. I like to be there a least thirty minutes early.
  • You need the booking number of the inmate you’re visiting.  I had that already because it’s same number I use when I send him snail mail.
  • Bring a picture ID (which you must have on your person at all times)
  • Quarters! You really only need one quarter.  It’s so you can put your stuff in a locker while you’re visiting.  I always need at least two quarters, since there’s never been a time when I didn’t forget that my phone is in my pocket, or that I accidentally put my driver’s license back in my purse, so I have to open my locker and use  another quarter to lock it again.

Knowing the whens and hows still didn’t help me know what to expect.

This wasn’t actually the first time I’d ever visited someone in jail.  I’ve had friends or family members who had done time for petty theft or drug use.  There have even been a couple of drunk-and-disorderlies thrown in there.

You visit those people at “Honor Farms” like on Orange is the New Black.  You sit at cafeteria-style tables and you can hug your loved one (once upon arrival and once leaving

The Protective Custody unit at the Orange County Jail is a completely different world.

Daniel is in the Intake / Release Center. This is where inmates are housed while awaiting trial.  Most people are not there for five years.

There’s something you can’t quite put your finger on: a feeling that you lose some of your “regular person on the street” status in the eyes of the O.C. deputy sheriffs. As soon as you walk in the door, you become someone to be watched, scrutinized, and recorded.

You go through the glass doors and join a check-in line.  They do not appreciate it when you excitedly approach the next window before they call you up (I was just trying to keep things moving along… jeeze!).

You talk through a speaker.  You can only see the deputy if you push your face against the glass (they don’t like that, either).

I give Daniel’s name and booking number to the female deputy and she seems immediately distrustful.

Daniel’s circumstances do make him a high visibility inmate, so that’s not total paranoia on my part.

“Your ID.”

I open the little door on the secure passageway between us.  When my door opens, her corresponding door seals shut, and vice versa.

“If you’re his friend, then where have you been for the past five years?”

“Ummm… We’re reconnecting… you know… from our old theatre days.”

“Do his parents know you’re coming today?”

“Yes they do.  He told them in advance.”

“Hmmm… ok.”  She puts my ID back in the compartment.

I try to open my side too soon.  It’s still sealed because her door isn’t completely closed.

I still make that mistake, even though I’ve visited a bunch of times by now.

Maybe, inside that room, there is access to some giant “release all prisoners” button, and they want to make sure that no “El Chappo types” send in their henchmen to try a breakout.

“Wait over there until the two o’clock visit is called.”

I sit on one of the teal molded-plastic chairs in the waiting area.  The place isn’t very crowded.  I’ve come to discover that Saturdays and Sundays are busier.

I try to not be obvious with my people watching.

I’m sure people are watching me.  Purple hair (at the time).  Black clothes.  Tattoos.  Giant nervous smile plastered on my face.  I try to keep my legs from bouncing too much.

Next up on DWIMF – The first time I was face to face (well… face to glass to face) with Daniel since before his arrest.

It would be great if anyone would like to share their own jail visit stories.   I’d love to read your comments.

Getting to Know Him

March 2015

(Post Six)
Pat replied to my letter later that week.   Yes, I know being in jail does afford
him a fair amount of spare time, but I still appreciated the quick
response.   I could tell he was eager to
continue this relationship.Like when
you give a guy your number and he texts you right away.  It’s a nice feeling.

His letter was written in pencil in his very neat printing on six pages, double-sided,
on yellow legal pad paper.
I bet he’s not allowed to have pens! Pens can be taken
apart.  There are probably a lot of
things that you can make with pen parts.I should ask about that.


Pat’s Letter

Pat thanked me for writing to him again and said he’d try
to answer all my questions as honestly as possible.   He also asked for honesty in return.
But he didn’t say what he wanted me to be honest about.  Just that
“a foundation cannot be built on lies and/or distrust.
”It makes me feel a little guilty about the
blog.   Does writing it make me

Pat told me he was happy to get my pictures and remembered
me “quite vividly.”  He said I “came across as a very easy-going genuinely nice person” (I think I
am a nice person.  Being remembered as
“hot” would be good, too).
“Freedom” was brought up again.  He’s tried to adapt to life behind bars;  he wants to use his time to help others any
way he can.
One point he has made hits me where I live. He feels like his years being incarcerated
have allowed him to strip away the false faces he used to wear.  In jail, he can be himself.
He wrote this letter to me at the end of September.  When he quoted Bill Cosby “I don’t know the key to success, but the
key to failure is trying to please everyone,
” he had no idea that, ironically, Cosby would be all over the news in a couple months.  It’s still a pretty good quote, though.
Then Pat answered all the questions I’d asked! 

Pat’s Answers


  • The Drugs: Pat used Crystal, Heroin, Ecstasy and he mixed a lot of pills (so some serious perspective and reality altering kinds of drugs).
  • He defended himself against the accusation that he had massive financial problems and said he was only a month or 2 behind on rent. The media completely over-exaggerated his debt
  • Overcoming addiction is still an on-going battle (in other words – getting drugs behind bars isn’t too difficult).
  • He told me that I was the only person to ask him if he likes his lawyer. He seemed impressed by that. Pat has a Public Defender lawyer who he really likes his lawyer and he talked about fighting for the greater good…
Which now makes more
sense in the light of some major developments happening around Pat’s case in
the past month!  His lawyer is making
major waves about the DA’s Office infringing on the rights of inmates.Now, Pat is getting a new judge after 5
years.  Meaning this trial isn’t starting
any time soon.


  • Pat’s free time is spent meditating, reading, studying theology, yoga, working out, taking counseling correspondence classes (he wants to be a rehabilitation councilor for other inmates), Bible classes, watching sports on TV… He showers and visit his fellow inmates during his 1-2 hours outside of his cell.
  • He wrote that inmates share whatever books and magazines they get sent in.
  • Visits are always a surprise. They only get visits on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. They can only have one visit per day.
  • Pat’s visitors have included:
    • His parents – regularly
    • A few of his theatre friends
    • The parents of an old girlfriend
    • A Dateline Producer!!!!!
    • Writers from New York (hmm – I’m not worried)
    • The Vet’s father (The “Vet” is one of Pat’s alleged victims. So having the guy’s dad visit Pat in jail is pretty astonishing).
    • and now ME
  • He has NEVER been scared inside the jail. He’s a big guy (6’2” and 200 lbs) and he’s in jail for a big crime. He isn’t affiliated with any gangs and he tries to promote “an atmosphere of peace and unity.” It seems like Pat gets along well with the inmates and the guards. He’s personable. He has been depressed, but never afraid.
  • Answer about the quest for God was quite extensive, so I’ll summarize. He is interested in all religions and has studied with many religious and spiritual leaders. He quotes Gandhi “All religion is true. I just want to love God.” Pat believes there is one true God that created us all. He believes that Jesus died for our sins. Pat is a LOT more religious than I am.
Pat ended his letter by inviting me to write to him again
and to feel free to inquire more.He
thanked me for just treating him like a human being.  He lost a lot of friends when he was
arrested.  He knows and understands that
many people think he is an evil man.

I don’t.
Pat may be 100% guilty of this crime.  That doesn’t mean that this crime is 100% who he is.
He’s funny.  He’s
silly.  He’s geeky.  Hell, he might not even be a murderer (more
on that later).
A present was also enclosed for me.
My first drawing from Pat.
Awwww… right?

My Next Letter to Jail: Lots of Questions

February 2015

(Post Five)

It was time to write Pat another letter!

I picked out 3 different pictures of myself to send because my hair color changes a lot.  I couldn’t remember what color it was when I met him and I wanted him to recognize me.

I told Pat how I thought it was cool to get mail from an inmate!

I talked about his theories on freedom and incarceration.

Your life is what you make it and if you philosophically break it down, everyone is confined and limited in some aspect.”

Ok technically he’s right about that…

“I can’t drive-thru Jack in the Box to get a double bacon cheeseburger; yet at the same time, you can’t fly to the moon to get some cheese.”

I think he’s pushing it a little on that one, but I get his point.

I still told him that I wouldn’t trade my freedoms for his.
I CAN drive to Albertsons to get cheese.

I mentioned his crazy neat printing.  I asked if it was always that nice.  He said his penmanship had been pretty good, but he’s improved it over the past 4 years.

He’d asked me why I wrote to him in the first place…

I told him it was because I found him interesting (not a lie…  I wasn’t quite ready to tell him that I considered him a writing topic.)

I told him that I’d talked about him to some of my friends and that we are all impressed with his general attitude about his life, trying to help others and making the most of his situation behind bars.

I rambled on about Orange is the New Black again.

My second letter was a bit longer than my first.  I felt more comfortable this time. Since he’d written me back so quickly, I knew for sure that he wanted to correspond with me.  I mean yeah, I probably could have figured that considering his situation,  he’d be grateful for anything to pass time (he is), but I wasn’t sure.

In Pat’s first letter to me, he’d said “If there’s anything you may want to know about me… Don’t be shy.”  

Ummm yeah, I want to know stuff about you!

Did you kill those two people??

Did you cut off that man’s head???

I didn’t ask those questions…

Not yet, anyway.  After all, I didn’t expect him to send me a written confession.

Actually, I wonder if the police do have a written confession from him.  Everything I’ve read said he confessed to both murders when he was first brought in to be questioned about the Vet’s ATM card.

The police claimed he had been Mirandized (told legal rights; ie: the “you have the right to remain silent” speech) before he confessed.  I just don’t know if they have actual proof of his confession or not.

If it’s not on paper and it wasn’t recorded, it seems kind of challenging to prove.

First Questions For Pat 


The rest of my letter had a lot of questions (I didn’t number them in the letter though):


  1. So what drug were you using? I’m assuming your financial problems were probably related to your addiction as well?  How was it in prison when you had to go cold turkey?
  2.  Do you like your lawyer? I’m not going to ask you anything about the actual case. I know you can’t talk about that. I’m just curious if you are happy with the lawyer that you been given.
  3. What else do you do with your time?
  4. You mentioned trying to get reading supplies.  Is the selection available pretty dismal?
  5. Have you ever felt like you weren’t safe in there?
  6. You mentioned inmates and their quest to find God.  Are you religious?
  7. Do you get a lot of visitors?

Oh yeah, that’s right… I was putting out feelers to see if I could visit him.

I have, by the way.

Five times so far!