It’s official. Daniel Wozniak is on his way to death row.
Literally. As I’m writing this on Monday, October 3rd, he’s being moved to San Quentin.
Normally, I visit him on Mondays.
Daniel didn’t know precisely what time he’d be leaving today because inmates aren’t given an exact time of departure. It’s a security risk.
However, if he was still at the OC Jail, Daniel was scheduled to have an early morning day room time today. He told me he would call me during day room (which he’s done pretty much every day for the past two years). If there was no phone call, then he was already gone.
No phone call.
I’ve spent a lot of time with Daniel this past week, so I’m behind in getting a post out. I’ve been visiting him officially as a member of the media. That meant I was able to visit him during off hours, and for much longer visits.
I left the Orange County Jail at 10 PM last night. The visiting room can be a little spooky when the place is empty. More about all that in another post.
Anyhoo – Let’s get to Daniel Wozniak’s sentencing hearing.
The Sentencing Hearing of Daniel Wozniak
On Friday, September 23, 2016, Judge Conley did the expected. He followed the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Daniel Wozniak to San Quentin’s death row.
The courtroom was packed that day. Many of the seats were filled with Sam’s and Julie’s family and friends. Relatives had even flown in to witness Daniel Wozniak’s sentencing. The Herr family brought an Army battalion (I’ll explain that when we get to the victim impact statements in the next post).
The rest of the place was filled with reporters, producers, news cameras, photographers, lookie-loos, and at least four jury members (three sat next to me and the forewoman sat between Sam’s mom and his aunt). There were also three extra Sherrif’s deputies.
Then there was me.
I felt really small and out of place. It was an odd experience knowing that everyone else in the crowd wanted my friend to die. The atmosphere in the courtroom was almost jovial. Before the hearing started, and during the breaks, people seemed cheery, energized and excited. It was as though this was an audience about to see a sold out performance of Hamilton. (I wish.)
I can understand why people hate Daniel so much. My own Facebook feed was riddled with posts from theatre friends with comments like ”it’s about time” and ”if anyone deserves to die it’s this guy,” interspersed with links to newspaper stories about the sentencing.
I had similar views when I first heard all about Daniel Wozniak’s crime. I wasn’t wishing death upon the man, but geez, he murdered a vet. He dismembered the guy. He murdered an innocent girl to put the blame on the vet. He did all this to pay for his wedding and honeymoon. Yikes!
That is the prosecution’s story, and a lot of people believe it completely. Daniel Wozniak has never spoken out in his defense. The video footage of Daniel’s confession is all most people have ever heard. It’s not a far leap to assume that Daniel Wozniak is an evil and unredeemable sub-human.
I don’t believe the entirety of the prosecution’s story though, and I do speak with Daniel all the time. I know a different person from the monster described in court.
Does that mean I don’t want him to go to San Quentin’s Death Row?
Actually, I’m okay with it.
If the Herr family and the Kibuishi family got some closure, relief, vengeance even, from Daniel receiving the death sentence, then I am not going to argue with that.
As Daniel’s friend, though, I’m glad we are in California. The last time someone was put to death in this state was 2006, and there are over 700 death row inmates ahead of Daniel. Also, California just might abolish the death penalty in November’s election.
I don’t want Daniel to be put to death. I believe that he still has something to offer to the world (or at least his fellow inmates). Daniel knows he will never make up for what he took from the Herr and Kibuishi families. But I’m going to use that old death penalty opponent’s argument and point out that taking Daniel’s life won’t bring back Sam and Julie.
Daniel Wozniak will likely never see the inside of San Quentin’s execution chamber. His death sentence is really more of a life-behind-bars sentence. It is also only the beginning of what will be years and years of appeals.
And yes, I will be taking some road trips up North to visit death row.
Sanders’ Last Motion
Defense attorney Scott Sanders fought the death penalty sentence until the last second. He even filed another one of his famous (or infamous, if you ask the Orange County DA’s office) motions that same day, requesting the death penalty be dropped or Daniel be given a new penalty trial.
Sanders argued that Matt Murphy and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office have shown obvious inconsistencies in what has been said about Daniel’s ex-fiancée, Rachel Buffett, and her possible role in the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.
It turns out, in his indictment against Rachel, Murphy claimed that he knew she was involved, or at least had complete knowledge of the murders, and that she definitely tried to help Daniel cover them up.
During Daniel’s trial, Rachel came off as an innocent victim, the deceived fiancée. Upon learning the horrible truth, Rachel Buffett behaved like a dutiful citizen, and was instrumental when it came to helping the police obtain the evidence needed to prosecute Daniel.
So which Rachel is the correct one… and how can the OCDA go on the record saying both of these descriptions are true?
If investigators believe Rachel was a conspirator, shouldn’t Daniel’s jury have been told? If you remember from Daniel’s trial, in closing arguments Matt Murphy said the jury could go ahead and assume Rachel is guilty of something, but don’t let that change anyone’s opinions about Daniel.
I think Scott Sanders’ point is that Daniel received the death penalty because of the special circumstances surrounding his case, specifically the motive of financial gain. But what if the motive wasn’t money?
Scott Sanders wanted an opportunity to re-question Detective Jose Morales regarding the credibility of his testimony about Rachel’s possible involvement in the murders. Sanders didn’t believe Morales had been entirely credible. Perhaps the detective actually did learn some pertinent information from the jail house snitch who was put in place to manipulate Daniel into talking.
Sanders reiterated that the defense has fought tooth and nail to have access to the informant information. He even predicted that more information would conveniently be discovered after Daniel has been sentenced.
Scott Sanders hasn’t earned many friends in the courtroom. His statements often elicited eye-rolling and groans of disgust from the majority of the onlookers (including those jurors next to me). Matt Murphy even enjoyed getting in a few barbs by making fun of Scott Sanders verbosity and claiming that if Sanders wasn’t “accusing people of misconduct,” he’d only speak for five minutes. The crowd guffawed at that one.
Umm Matt, you talked way more than Scott did during the trial. Just sayin’.
Scott Sanders also wanted the opportunity to question the informants themselves to see if they had any favorable statements about their observations of Daniel Wozniak.
I’m sure the jury wouldn’t have cared either way.
Judge Conley called this a “sleepwalker scenario,” claiming it wasn’t important if Daniel “did good deeds, but didn’t know it.”
You completely confused me with that argument, Your Honor. Just because Daniel doesn’t testify about how he often helps out other inmates, doesn’t mean he’s unaware that he does it. The only way the jury could learn about Daniel’s “good deeds” would be from the observations of others.
Judge Conley also accused Scott Sanders of trying to get in the “back door” by filing this last minute brief. He then struck down the entirety of Sanders’ brief, calling it “untimely.”
Since his client was about to be sentenced, though, I’d say Sanders’ continued attempts to save Daniel from death row seemed pretty timely.
The death penalty was not dismissed and a new trial will not be granted.
In fact, Judge Conley acknowledged that there was misconduct in Daniel Wozniak’s case, but he still believed that Daniel got a fair trial.
Wait. What?? Someone got that statement on the record, right?
Clearly nothing was gong to derail Daniel’s train to execution town.
I’ll tell you about the victim impact statements in part two of this post. It won’t take long, I promise.