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In a 185-page motion, the attorney for convicted double-murderer Daniel Patrick Wozniak argues his client’s potential death sentence should be blocked because of error by the prosecution and bias by the judge.
On Friday, Superior Court Judge John D. Conley is expected to rule swiftly and issue a death sentence to the Costa Mesa community actor — who was convicted last December of the 2010 murders of his neighbor Samuel E. Herr and Herr’s friend Juri “Julie” Kibuishi. Wozniak confessed to decapitating the 26-year-old Herr, 26, and then shooting Kibuishi , 23, as a coverup.
The motion was filed by public defender Scott Sanders on Sept 2., but had been kept under seal because Conley and the prosecutors said they needed to review it to ensure jail informants weren’t exposed improperly. After a hearing Wednesday, Conley finally unsealed the motion.
In the motion, Sanders, who is trying to win a new penalty trial for Wozniak, again brings to the fore issues from the years-long jail informant scandal that has rocked the county’s legal establishment.
And he describes new evidence in a high-profile jail death in 2006 that could undermine an important subsequent Orange County appellate ruling — which established a high standard for government misconduct required to affect a case.
“The history of misconduct and extraordinary efforts to hide that misconduct in this county creates every reason to believe that the [Wozniak] defense will never be able to know in which ways it has been damaged by” evidence disclosure violations, wrote Sanders.
Sanders’ view arose from his discoveries during his defense of Scott Evans Dekraai, who in 2011 slaughtered his ex-wife and seven other people in a Seal Beach beauty salon. Like Wozniak, Dekraai has been convicted and is awaiting the penalty phase of his trial.
During an extraordinary hearing in 2014 during the Dekraai case, Sanders revealed that Orange County sheriff’s deputies and the prosecution systematically violated the rights of criminal defendants through a jailhouse informant network. The revelations led Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals in 2015 to bar District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ team from continuing to prosecute Dekraai.
The state Attorney General’s Office is appealing Goethals’
ruling, with a decision possibly years away.
With that history, Sanders laid out specific allegations against Conley and the prosecution in the Wozniak case — where the jury in January recommended Wozniak be sentenced to death.
Sanders alleges Deputy District Attorney Matthew Murphy engaged in prosecutorial error when he suggested to the jury that Wozniak’s then-fiancée, Rachel Buffett, may not have known about the murders at a key point of the police probe in May 2010.
Yet, Sanders wrote, Murphy argued in 2012 at Buffett’s preliminary hearing that she knew Wozniak was a killer and was trying to help him get away with it by lying to investigating detectives then.
Murphy was trying to ensure at the preliminary hearing that she would be bound over for trial on three felonies, as an accessory after the murders, Sanders wrote. [Buffett’s case has been delayed until Nov. 10; her attorney couldn’t be reached.]
A prosecutor can’t engage in such inconsistent conduct, Sanders argues in the motion. And he claims Murphy did so to increase the likelihood of a death sentence.
Sanders also criticized Conley as biased for repeated rulings in recent months that blocked him from further examinations of the hidden computer records sheriff’s deputies kept on informants – who, he claims, were used to improperly gather information on defendants like Wozniak and Buffett.
During an evidentiary hearing before Conley last spring, Sanders uncovered a “special handling log” that deputies used to keep track of informants.
But Conley — a former top Orange County prosecutor — then shut down that line of inquiry, saying it was irrelevant and not used in Wozniak’s trial. Sanders maintained his client’s defense was still harmed because the ruling prevented questioning of deputies, and/or learning from informants potentially vital details about his clients.
In a response filed earlier this week, Murphy argues all these issues are irrelevant, and their use is not supported by the law.
Evidence of Wozniak’s guilt is overwhelming, Murphy added, noting the killer’s confession, physical evidence, and his continued partying after the killings during the prelude to his planned wedding. Wozniak’s desire for money to pay matrimonial costs has been cited as a primary motive.
Murphy also asserts Sanders’ allegations are a type of professional misconduct he has used in multiple other instances to malign prosecution efforts. Sanders called the allegations “patently false.”
The motion then delves into an earlier major county law enforcement scandal – the 2006 beating death of John Derek Chamberlain by fellow inmates in the Theo Lacy Facility. Chamberlain was mistakenly believed to be a child molester. And when the attack ensued, sheriff’s deputies failed to respond, some reportedly watching television.
The death of Chamberlain prompted a multitude of investigations and reports, alleging sheriff’s deputies hid records and thwarted investigators. But in the end, only the nine inmates were charged and convicted.
Then in July 2014, a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana ruled that inmates appealing their convictions had not shown sufficient government misconduct to overturn their convictions.
During the Dekraai case, Goethals cited that ruling in determining he couldn’t dismiss the death penalty option. Conley has similarly cited that appellate decision in the Wozniak case.
After recent investigations, Sanders wrote in his Wozniak motion that he uncovered substantial evidence that undermines the prosecution of the inmates convicted in Chamberlain’s death.
Sanders argues this means that the appellate decision was not properly founded, and should be revisited by the courts.
Sanders’ evidence evolved out of his discovery of the now-infamous TRED computer records, which the sheriff’s department disclosed in late 2014 during the Dekraai case.
Through the TRED database, sheriff’s deputies monitored the placement of informants next to high-profile inmates, like Dekraai and Wozniak, to glean compromising information.
In the Wozniak motion, Sanders wrote that defense attorneys for the Chamberlain defendants didn’t receive records from the prosecution team that showed alleged false testimony, prior discipline, and alleged malfeasance by a key sheriff’s deputy investigating the case, Sanders wrote.
On Wednesday, Conley rejected Sanders’ request to delay the Wozniak sentencing three weeks so he could respond to Murphy’s allegations about his defense practices.
Rex Dalton can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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