As an Orange County actor, Daniel Patrick Wozniak’s skill was so steely he played lead roles in community productions right after horrifically murdering a man and a woman in 2010.
Wozniak, 32, of Costa Mesa, presented the same icy resolve in Superior Court in Santa Ana Friday, showing no emotion as he was given the death penalty for executing the pair with gunshots to the head.
After killing neighbor Samuel E. Herr, 26, Wozniak cut off his head and arms, scattering the body parts in a wetlands. Then Wozniak lured a college friend of Herr’s, Juri “Julie” Kibuishi of Irvine, to her death as a cover up.
As the Herr and Kibuishi families and friends stood before Judge John D. Conley pouring out their anguish amid tears at Friday’s hearing, the tall, dark, bearded Wozniak stared back, seemingly unmoved.
Neither he nor his public defender, Scott Sanders, made any comment following the families’ heart-felt speeches.
Previously during the hearing, Sanders continued his relentless defense of Wozniak, asking Conley to bar the death penalty because of alleged government misconduct he uncovered during the last three years, and to grant a new penalty phase of the trial.
But Conley quickly brushed aside all of Sanders’ arguments of rights violations, noting the evidence and speed by which the jury convicted Wozniak last December, and recommended the death penalty in January.
During courtroom comments, the deceased Herr’s parents were backed by eight veterans who served with the younger Herr in Afghanistan — often at isolated forward outposts under constant threat from enemy forces, in between seeking to win the hearts and minds of villagers.
Father Steve Herr read a letter from his son’s former U.S. Army commanding officer, Cap. Benjamin L. Kilgore, who wrote that he once selected Samuel Herr to serve as a mechanic on a difficult operation because of “his unmatched ability to operate independently under difficult conditions.”
This was the type of soldier his son was remembered as by his fellow veterans, one of whom wore the hat of a Purple Heart organization.
For the Kibuishi family, who emigrated 30 years ago from Japan, there was a complete lack of understanding of why their college student daughter was killed.
“You took her precious life…Why? What did she do to you?” asked her mother, June Kibuishi, as the father stood by her side holding a photograph of the young woman, but not speaking.
The victims’ families view of Wozniak was left to Steve Herr, who called him “a coward” and “a monster.”
And in describing how the jury saw two recordings of theater productions by Wozniak, Conley took specific note of Wozniak’s post-killing acting skills, saying “he seemed fine.”
Planning to steal the $62,000 Herr saved while deployed in Afghanistan so he could be married “in style”, Conley said, Wozniak “was willing to kill two young people to accomplish that goal.”
On Sept. 30, there will be a hearing on restitution, something families members of the deceased said is impossible.
Wozniak then will be transported to Death Row at San Quentin Prison to await the administration of a fatal penalty. The state-mandated automatic appeals process begins, with an extra long personal Wozniak appeal expected.
This is because the Wozniak prosecution was sullied by the jail informant scandal that has disrupted Orange County’s justice system — when Sanders exposed sheriff’s deputies and the prosecution violating the constitutional rights of multiple defendants; a number of whom have had their life sentences overturned.
Those informant abuses — which were hidden by law enforcement officers — were sufficient for Sanders to convince Judge Thomas M. Goethals in early 2015 to bar District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ team from continuing to prosecute mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai.
While the state Attorney General’s Office is appealing that ruling, Sanders wasn’t successful in convincing Conley of such violations in the Wozniak case.
But that defense drive continued through Friday’s Wozniak hearing, as it did Thursday in Goethals’ courtroom in the Dekraai case.
During a hearing last spring in the Wozniak case, Sanders elicited testimony showing there was a secret “special handling log” of informant movements kept by sheriff’s deputies, but not disclosed to either Wozniak or Dekraai.
Previous court testimony showed that deputies halted that log in January 2013 — just five days after Goethals forced the Dekraai prosecution team to provide Sanders with thousands of pages of informant notes, which caused the snitch scandal to explode in 2014.
In recent months, Sanders has subpoenaed any new logs that may have been created after the previous one was halted. [The logs not only chart informants being placed next to high-profile inmates, they also help deputies protect inmates.]
But despite requests for an answer from Office of the County Counsel — which represents the sheriff’s department in both the Wozniak and Dekraai case — Sanders has been unable get an answer if there is such a new log.
On Thursday, Goethals roasted county counsel representatives over Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ staff’s refusal to fully provide all informant notes and records that Sanders was subpoenaing as early as 2012.
County counsel’s response to Goethals was they were investigating.
Friday, Sanders pleaded with Conley to call a county counsel as a witness to say if there is such a log or not. Conley declined, calling the request out of order and irrelevant.
Sanders added it was clear the sheriff and county counsel were stalling, saying he would “predict” the existence of a new special handling log soon will appear.
At a press conference after the death penalty was rendered, Steve Herr commended Rackauckas’ prosecution team and Conley and lambasted Sanders for what he called baseless allegations of government misconduct.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Benjamin L. Kilgore.
Rex Dalton can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.