It's difficult to imagine a more heated Orange County courtroom today than the one in which Superior Court Judge James A. Stotler presided over contentious, pretrial disputes in the case of People v. Daniel Wozniak, the local actor turned gory, decapitation murderer.
Wozniak--merely a smiling, upbeat observer at today's hearing--long ago admitted his guilt in a bizarre, May 2010 double murder, but the battle over whether he's suitable for California's death row at San Quentin State Prison is crawling like a race between two heavily sedated, senile turtles.
That's not to suggest the fight between prosecutor Matt Murphy and public defender Scott Sanders hasn't been intense and colorful as we approach a scheduled February trial date to determine punishment. It has. As a result, the mild-mannered Stotler found himself repeatedly playing boxing referee and not satisfying either lawyer, each of whom insists he has been the victim of his opponent's crass plotting, theatrics and paranoia.
For example, Murphy blasted Sanders for planning to file an upcoming 20,000-page motion by pointing out that the combined texts of War and Peace, Moby Dick, The U.S. Constitution, Gettysburg Address, The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, the IIiad, the Odyssey, Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, Koran, New King James Bible and a Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking total 14,000 fewer words.
Sanders viewed the line as a cheap shot, telling Stotler that Orange County prosecutors like to place him in lose-lose scenarios: If he doesn't file massive documents in support of his claims of law-enforcement cheating he believes should block the death penalty against Wozniak, then they argue he can't produce supportive evidence. Or, when he files hefty documents to bolster his argument, they claim it's a waste of time to read.
"They can't have it both ways," said the veteran public defender whose 2014 work got Thomas M. Goethals, the judge presiding over another Sanders' case: People v. Scott Dekraai, to acknowledge numerous Orange County law enforcement officials committed perjury about jailhouse informant cheating and the hiding of evidence.
Not much got settled today on Sanders' push to recuse all local prosecutors and superior court judges and to allow him to conduct special evidentiary hearings.
Murphy--who is not personally named in any of the wrongdoing--balked at the ideas, calling his opponent's demands "unconscionable" stalling.
Stotler said he is still reading motions filed this week. He ordered a Monday follow-up hearing.
The currently scheduled trial launch is likely impossible. Murphy is set to begin a different murder case in early February, and that matter is expected to last most, if not all, of the month. And Sanders may seek appellate review of rulings against his client.
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According to the Costa Mesa Police Department, a money-hungry Wozniak murdered Samuel Eliezer Herr, 26, and Juri "Julie" Kibuishi, 23, in one of the most bizarre killings in modern county history.