Accused double murderer Daniel Patrick Wozniak will face the death penalty in his coming trial after an Orange County Superior Court judge rejected a defense request alleging constitutional rights violations.
Judge John D. Conley wrote in his 14-page decision on Oct. 30 that county public defenders for Wozniak had failed to show “outrageous government misconduct” or rights violations involving a jail informant.
Conley declined to hold an evidentiary hearing on the allegations of Scott Sanders, Wozniak’s lead attorney, and rejected the request to dismiss the death penalty. Sanders has said Wozniak would plead guilty to life without possibility of parole if prosecutors would take the death penalty off the table.
“The conduct shown in this case falls far short of establishing outrageous government misconduct,” wrote Conely.
In 2010, Wozniak, a local actor, is alleged to have decapitated and dismembered his neighbor Samuel E. Herr in their Costa Mesa apartment building. Wozniak is also accused of killing Juri "Julie" Kibuishi, of Irvine, who was a college friend of Herr’s.
In recent years, the Wozniak case has became a lightening rod for allegations that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' office has for three decades violated defendant rights -- often in capital cases -- by illegal use of jail informants and withholding potentially helpful evidence from defense attorneys.
Earlier this year, Sanders successfully showed in a lengthy evidentiary hearing that prosecutors had engaged in such misconduct in the case of mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai, leading Judge Thomas M. Goethals to remove the DA's team from the case.
Dekraai has pleaded guilty to killing his ex-wife and seven others in 2011 in a Seal Beach beauty salon. The state Attorney General’s Office is to prosecute his coming death penalty trial, pending an appeal of Goethals’ decision.
In a series of motions for Wozniak, Sanders sought to show similar prosecution misconduct in some 40 cases over three decades that indicated the defendant couldn’t now receive a fair trial.
Those defense efforts of nearly 900 pages of motions -- supported by 75 three-inch-thick binders of more than 20,000 exhibits -- were “the longest the court has ever seen or even heard of in a motion in a criminal case in California during the last 40 years,” Conley wrote.
“The defense briefing shows amazing diligence and unprecedented thoroughness of preparation," he added. "Counsel have to be commended for the extraordinary effort they have made for their client.”
But Conley wrote he can “neither criticize nor approve the conduct” by prosecutors and law enforcement in those cases. [Conely is a former deputy district attorney, and top official in that office in the 1990s.]
To resolve those questions, Conley noted, would take months of testimony in a case that has already gone on for more than five years since the alleged offenses occurred.
“The court simply finds that [whether good or bad] that conduct in 40 other cases is irrelevant to Mr. Wozniak’s right to a fair trial,” he wrote.
In a statement, Sanders called the ruling "disappointing."
"We believe the decision should have been based upon witness testimony," he said, adding that he had hoped to call both Rackauckas and Conley as witnesses.
In the coming weeks, pre-trial hearings and jury selection will begin, with a jury expected to be seated after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the journal Nature. You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.