In defending his right to continue presiding over a double-murder suspect’s death penalty trial, an Orange County Superior Court judge revealed his bias and should be dismissed from the case, the defendant’s attorney alleges in court papers.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office counters that attorneys for Daniel Patrick Wozniak have not provided any factual basis to disqualify Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley.
The legal skirmish stems from Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kevin Brazile’s rejection of a motion to disqualify Conley from presiding over Wozniak’s penalty trial. The defendant’s attorneys want the Fourth District Court of Appeal to overturn that ruling.
Wozniak’s attorneys argue that it was well established before the case even found its way to Conley’s courtroom that they wanted to call the judge as a witness to testify about what they say is a three-decades-long conspiracy to use jailhouse snitches to violate the rights of defendants while in custody.
The defense contends Conley’s status as a potential witness should disqualify him from presiding over the defendant’s trial.
The attorneys also argue that Conley showed bias in the case with legal filings defending his ability to remain impartial. For instance, they argue he “incorrectly” assumed Wozniak would make the case for dismissal of the death penalty and recusal of Conley based on a Massiah motion violation, which refers to a landmark case that prohibits questioning of a suspect after he has acquired legal representation.
The attorneys also fault Brazile for failing “to address the issue of how Judge Conley could serve simultaneously and fairly as the judge and a witness during an evidentiary hearing on whether the death penalty should be dismissed.”
Wozniak’s attorneys argue the same jailhouse snitch — Fernando Perez — questioned Wozniak and Scott Evans Dekraai, the worst mass killer in Orange County’s history. Both are represented by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who has fought to have the District Attorney’s Office kicked off both cases, succeeding in the Dekraai case, although that ruling is under appeal.
Wozniak’s attorneys claim litigation in the Dekraai case on the use of jailhouse informants “revealed law violations and the concealment of critical evidence. It was determined that 18 defendants — 14 of whom were charged with murder, including two defendants on death row and one facing capital murder — had informant discovery improperly withheld from them,” their filing states.
Prosecutors argue in their reply that any evidence from Perez, aka Inmate F, would not be used in Wozniak’s trial. Also, Perez was not officially a government informant at the time he was chatting up Wozniak.
“Inmate F was facing a lengthy potential prison sentence and decided to share Mr. Wozniak’s admissions with law enforcement,” Wyatt’s defenders write in their brief. “Inmate F had no contact with anyone from Wozniak’s prosecution team prior to his conversation with the defendant.”
Wozniak’s prosecutor, Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, said he quickly alerted Sanders about Inmate F and said he would not call him as a witness. That ended Costa Mesa’s work with Inmate F.
“In fact, the prosecutor has never met, spoken to, emailed or communicated in any way, at any time, with the (Sheriff’s Department’s) deputies involved in the Scott Dekraai case, ” prosecutors argue in the reply.
“As a professional courtesy,” Murphy also gave Sanders a heads-up when his client appeared on the MSNBC program “Lockup.”
“After learning Mr. Wozniak provided interviews to the media, Mr. Murphy immediately contacted the defense with the express purpose of helping them control their client from future actions detrimental to his defense,” the prosecutors wrote in response to Sanders’ appeal.
Prosecutors also accuse Sanders of dragging out the Wozniak case, failing to make multiple deadlines for filing a formal motion to dismiss the District Attorney’s Office and the death penalty as an option.
On Jan. 27, Orange County Superior Court Judge James Stotler stepped down from presiding over the Wozniak case, noting the “vociferous invectives directed by defense counsel toward OCDA,” according to the response from prosecutors.
Wozniak is accused of luring Samuel Herr to the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Military base in May 2010 to shoot him and then using the victim’s cell phone to trick his friend, Juri Kibuishi, into going to Herr’s Costa Mesa apartment, where the defendant allegedly gunned her down and then made it look like Herr killed her during a sexual assault. Wozniak then allegedly returned to the base to dismember Herr.
— City News Service