Sleuth Episode Airs Fight Over What’s Not Appropriate to Say About a Crime Victim

Sleuth host Linda Sawyer

The fourth installment of Sleuth, an iHeartRadio original true-crime podcast exposing controversies in a 2010 Orange County double homicide, begins with Linda Sawyer hosting a mini-debate about whether a crime victim’s own dark past is fair game for journalistic discussion.

An indignant Steve Herr, whose son Sam was lost in the crime, did not appreciate comments by Scott Sanders, the defense attorney who represented Daniel Wozniak, a current resident of San Quentin State Prison’s death row.

“I was appalled that Mr. Sanders twice called Sam a ‘killer’ during the [previous episode of the] podcast,” Herr told Sawyer. “I felt it was a cruel joke. He knows Sam was acquitted. His client, Dan Wozniak, murdered Sam and Julie. Wozniak also dismembered Sam.”

Proving again that events inside courthouses aren’t always black and white, both Sanders and Herr can point to supportive facts.

In 2002, Sam drove unarmed pal Bryon Benito to a Los Angeles parking lot knowing a Mexican Mafia-associated gang, the Brown Familia, planned an ambush, according to Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department records. Police found the mauled corpse with more than 30 knife wounds and at least 20 broken bones believed to have been caused by tire-iron strikes. During questioning by detectives, Sam eventually admitted his role in the murder. But a judge tossed out the confession on a legal technicality, and the jury acquitted him. 

Herr wasn’t just upset that Sanders called his son a killer. He also believes the entire topic should have been off-limits for the investigative journalist’s podcast.

But Sawyer merely asked the public defender which of Superior Court Judge John D. Conley’s rulings most troubled him during the trial. Sanders explained that Conley—a former prosecutor—refused to permit him to introduce the less-than-flattering evidence to jurors while allowing prosecutor Matt Murphy to present Sam in near-angelic terms. The judge said he didn’t want to “dirty up” one of the victims on the verge of a death-penalty vote.

To listen to Sanders’ reply to Herr’s criticism, visit the Sleuth website.

There’s more—much more—during this lengthy broadcast.

Sawyer, Herr and the public defender extensively critique opening statements in the recently concluded People v. Rachel Buffett case. Wozniak’s fiancée at the time of the double murder, Buffett potentially faces more than three years in prison for committing accessory-after-the-fact crimes. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 8 inside Orange County Superior Court.

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