District Attorney Matt Murphy was half-way through his closing argument in the penalty phase of Daniel Wozniak’s trial. He had thoroughly pondered, then criticized, what he hoped would be Scott Sanders’ defense. He’d written off the testimonies of defense witnesses, negated Rachel Buffett’s importance in the murders and reviewed the prosecution’s case against Daniel in his effort to remind the jury why Daniel should be put to death.
One of Murphy’s prime points: So many people were hurt by the murders of Sam and Julie. Lives were changed forever.
Many Different Kinds of Victims
Murphy brought up Wesley Frielich, the young man Daniel persuaded to take money out of Sam’s account using his ATM card. Wesley didn’t actually testify during the penalty phase of Daniel’s trial, but the prosecution didn’t want the jury to forget about this young and impressionable kid who had his life changed because he trusted Daniel Wozniak. Wesley went from having no criminal record to having the FBI handcuff him on his front lawn.
Next, Murphy wanted to talk about Sam’s friend Lester James McKinney, and how he and Sam had been friends since they were teens.
A Challenge From Scott Sanders
That’s when Scott Sanders asked Judge Conley for a sidebar.
I heard a few scoffs from members of Sam and Julie’s families who appeared annoyed at Sanders for delaying matters. People looked at each other with confused expressions. Was Scott Sanders actually objecting to a victim impact statement from one of Sam’s closest friends? No. The problem here for Sanders was the portrayal of Sam Herr as a loyal and trustworthy friend.
Just as Matt Murphy’s sticking point was not getting to speak last in the penalty phase, Scott Sanders had his own issue he wouldn’t let go. He was still determined to have the jury hear about Sam’s past with his own murder trial.
Sanders didn’t think it was acceptable to paint teenage Sam as a good guy. He wanted to call witnesses who would talk about Sam lying to a close friend and leading that man to his death. Judge Conley explained that Lester McKinney would only be describing how he himself “saw Sam,” so there was no need for the jury to hear any witnesses that would contradict that image.
Matt Murphy then tried to remind the jury about Chris Williams and how emotionally scarring it was for him to be involved in this case. Scott Sanders objected to Williams’ victim impact being referenced since Williams didn’t actually testify during the penalty phase (neither did Wesley, actually). But Sam’s friend Miles Foltz, who had testified, got to tell the jury that Sam was everyone’s best friend.
Then there was Julie Kibuishi, who Matt Murphy called, “the victim who did not have to die.”
(Sorry to be nitpicky, but obviously neither or these victims had to die.)
Murphy added that Julie was a daughter, sister, dancer and friend, but Daniel Wozniak only saw her as a decoy. He lured Julie to her death on the same night he sang and danced on stage.
The demonized image of Daniel Wozniak was the last one Murphy wanted the jury to remember. The Daniel who described Julie as the “God dammed body” at one point, and who planned this intricate plot to rob and murder, was a cold-blooded killer and betrayer of friends.
Matt Murphy ended his closing and hoped he’d covered all the bases. Was there anything Scott Sanders would bring up that Murphy hadn’t effectively already shut down? In the next couple of posts, I’ll be giving you the details of Scott Sander’s closing argument. Will he be able to sway the jury to choose life in prison instead of death?
Spoiler alert: No.
But he sure did put in a valiant effort.
I’m almost finished with the detailed trial coverage. My apologies to anyone who doesn’t find the minutiae of the case as interesting as I do, but I’m betting some of you are fellow trial junkies who binge watched The Making of a Murderer, too.
Why So Much Detail on the Trial?
And maybe, it feels “safe” to focus so much on the trial specifics. I was genuinely surprised by the large quantity, and the severity, of negative comments I received on social media just because I’m friends with Daniel.
Sometimes I’m a little nervous about putting too much of myself in my writing. After all, people can’t hold it against me if I’m just re-telling what happened in the courtroom, right? Also, if I post everything I’m thinking in the blog, what will be left to put in a book?
An Orange County Judicial Scandal Could Prompt More Delays
Last week, Daniel’s sentencing was postponed for the second time. A new date will be set in June. This happened because the Orange County snitch scandal has been heating up again.
Through a completely separate case, another lawyer came across some informant notes that had Daniel’s name all over them. The DA’s office claims they didn’t even know about the existence of these notes.
(So, why would the OC Sherrif’s Office even collect informant notes if they aren’t for the District Attorney to aid in prosecution?)
Daniel and Scott Sanders have been in court all week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be, but Daniel has been taking lots of notes for me, and The LA Times and The OC Register have been doing thorough coverage of the story.
The informant scandal has nothing specific to do with the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi, but it could have a big influence on how Daniel’s case plays out. Other murder cases are going back to trial because of evidence hidden from defense attorneys.
On Friday, Sam’s dad and Julie’s mom spoke in court. They asked that there be no more delays in sentencing Daniel.
I can’t help wondering: Would this case have been over long ago if the people in charge had just followed the law? Would the families have justice by now? As is, do you think they are worried that all this deception could lead to a re-trial for Daniel?
Because it could.