It took an Orange County jury less than 90 minutes this afternoon to discuss, then hand the death penalty to Daniel Wozniak, the 31-year-old community-theater actor who made international headlines by murdering two Orange Coast College students for financial gain in May 2010.
There was never any question about Wozniak’s guilt. He voluntarily confessed to Costa Mesa Police Department detectives after the killings.
But Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy argued for the ultimate punishment in large part because of the grisly, unnecessary nature of the crimes, as well as the motive. According to Murphy, Wozniak shot Sam Herr, his 26-year-old apartment-complex neighbor and a U.S. Army combat veteran, twice in the head and dismembered him as a way to steal his $62,000 in life savings. The motivation for the crime? Wozniak needed the money to pay for his upcoming wedding and honeymoon cruise.
To create a false explanation for Herr’s missing status, Wozniak lured Herr’s friend Juri “Julie” Kibuishi, a 23-year-old Irvine resident, to the victim’s apartment, shot her twice in the head and staged a bedroom scene to imply an unsuccessful sexual assault.
While Murphy couldn’t hide his disgust, Wozniak’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, argued his client was guilty of “horrible” crimes but would be adequately punished with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Part of his argument involved a contention that Wozniak’s fiancee at the time of the murders, Rachel Buffett, slyly manipulated him into a frenzy over finances and avoided appropriate accountability. She faces charges for repeatedly lying to police during the investigation, according to court records.
The jury found Wozniak guilty last month after the defense raised no opposition.
Superior Court Judge John Conley, who presided over the case, can reject or ratify the jury’s decision at a March 11 hearing.
Stay tuned for Wednesday’s Moxley Confidential column that will go into greater depth about controversial elements of the case and trial.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.