Orange County public defenders for accused double murderer Daniel Patrick Wozniak allege in a motion filed Tuesday that a collaboration between county sheriff’s deputies and the producers of an MSNBC show violated his constitutional rights.
The defense wants an Orange County Superior Court order to review notes and other documents relating to segment featuring Wozniak on the network’s “Lockup” program, which depicts life inside America’s jails and prisons.
Wozniak, of Costa Mesa, faces the death penalty for the killing and dismembering of his neighbor, Samuel Herr, and the murder of his girlfriend, Juri “Julie” Kibuishi, of Irvine. His attorney has said in court Wozniak is willing to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty, and be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole.
In an 89-page motion filed before Judge John D. Conley in Santa Ana, Wozniak’s lead public defender, Scott Sanders, alleges Orange County sheriff’s deputies collaborated with Lockup’s producers thereby violating his client’s right to counsel, against self incrimination and due process for a fair trial.
The motion describes what Sanders called a “stunning” example of how sheriff’s deputies assisted Lockup producers for “a program that would deliver both incriminating statements and a potentially enhanced reputation for deputies.”
After first deploying a jail informant to secure statements from Wozniak, Sanders asserts sheriff’s deputies “working as a team” with a field producer were “interested in obtaining more statements from Wozniak, as well as pleasing the production company with strong story lines.”
(Click here to read the motion.)
A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department said the agency needed to review the motion before commenting.
Kelli L. Sager, a Los Angeles attorney representing the Lockup team, didn’t respond to an interview request.
Two of the sheriff’s deputies shepherding Lockup producers through the jail scenes were also key players in a recent high-profile case in which a judge found that deputies and county district attorney’s office prosecutors engaged in widespread misconduct involving a jailhouse informant system.
The revelations were brought to light by Sanders in his defense of Scott Evans Dekraai, Orange County’s largest mass murderer, who in 2011 killed his wife and seven others in a Seal Beach beauty salon.
In a rare and unusual decision in March, Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals ousted District Attorney Tony Rackackaus’ team from prosecuting the case — after an unprecedented hearing in which law enforcement and a deputy district attorney were found to have testified falsely. This moved the prosecution of Dekraai to the state Attorney General’s Office.
While Attorney General Kamala D. Harris is appealing Goethals decision on behalf of the DA, her office also is conducting an “independent investigation” of “evidence discovery violations” described as “serious.” A penalty phase trial of Dekraai is to come after the appeal.
The District Attorney’s Office declines to speak to the Voice of OC; but officials there publicly have said they respectfully disagreed with Goethals’ ruling, blaming prosecutorial shortcomings on training deficiencies.
In his eight-page ruling in the Dekraai case, Geothals described “a comedy of errors” as evidence repeatedly was withheld from the defense and false testimony continually provided by law enforcement.
In his motion for the Wozniak case regarding the Lockup program, Sanders wrote: “It can be accurately stated that in Orange County jails truth can be stranger than fiction.”
The Wozniak arguments provide an unusually candid view into how law enforcement collaborates with an entertainment program — called “documentary style” by its producer — on life and death issues.
And how when judicial problems arise, as they have in this case, the program’s producers seek to use shield laws established for professional journalists under the First Amendment.
Lockup’s creator, 44 Blue Productions of Studio City, produces “trailblazing non-fiction, reality, lifestyle and action-adventure programming.” It was founded and is run by Rasha Drachkovitch, who describes himself as “one of the television industry’s most daring and adventurous producers.”
In the Wozniak legal battle, Sanders’ motion focuses on a former 44 Blue freelance producer, Suzanne Ali, who visited Orange County jails in 2010 in search of high-profile criminals to portray.
For this endeavor, court records say, she worked with several sheriff’s deputies in a “special handling unit” — which testimony shows operated a network of secret informants moved around the jail to capture comprising defendant statements.
In particular, two of the deputies — Ben Garcia and Seth Tunstall — were named in Goethals’ Dekraai ruling as having testified dishonestly.
Preparing for filming, court records show Ali engaged sheriff’s deputies in email communication about subjects for the upcoming Lockup program.
An email singled out four inmates other than Wozniak — including at least two who were informants — who potentially were to be in the program, the motion states.
But when the crew arrived in 2010, Wozniak was included in the filming.
A crucial issue is how Wozniak came to be filmed. In his motion, Sanders argues that the idea Ali independently identified Wozniak among the nearly 1,800 inmates in the Orange County Jail “reeks of fabrication.”
A telling description of an encounter between Ali and Wozniak raises questions about the veracity of statements so far, Sanders argues.
Last August after the Lockup filming issue came up in earlier court proceedings, the motion states that Garcia had included in a report he wrote that Ali noticed Wozniak because he gave her “a big fake actor’s type grin.”
But after a district attorney investigator questioned Garcia about their interaction with the Lockup crew, the motion says the comment about a “fake actor’s grin” wasn’t included in that investigator’s report.
And Ali didn’t include that phrase in her recent declaration, in support of her attorney’s attempt to block disclosure of records.
In the declaration, Ali recalled telling Garcia that “no one suggested we talk to Mr. Wozniak; that I asked to speak to Mr. Wozniak because he stood out from the other inmates, and had smiled at me when we made eye contact.”
(Click here to read Ali’s declaration.)
Sanders’ motion called this “lottery-style luck” that she would have noticed “the fake actor’s grin” by someone who himself was a former amateur actor — a factor that became the lead in the show’s segment on Wozniak.
Citing testimony in February 2015 in the Dekraai hearing, Sanders noted a deputy involved in the show acknowledged suggestions were made to the Lockup crew about whom to film.
“They knew whom they suggested,” Sanders’ motion says. “But they decided it was better to hide the actual dialogue on inmate selection.”
And because of the pending motion, Sanders wrote: “Suzanne Ali has presented herself just as willing to lie about this subject matter.”
Because of Garcia and Tunstall’s history of providing questionable testimony, Sanders is seeking Ali’s notes, any emails, records, and unpublished material to more fully understand how Wozniak was swept into the program.
Any material subpoenaed then would be reviewed in camera by the judge to determine what could be provided to the defense.
Sanders asserts that because of her declaration Ali has waived her right to withhold records subpoenaed, and Wozniak’s right to fully defend himself in a capital case requires the disclosures.
No hearing date on the matter is set.
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