An Orange County Superior Court judge Friday rejected a request for a hearing into alleged government misconduct in the case of a man facing the death penalty for allegedly killing and dismembering a man then murdering a friend of the victim in Costa Mesa.

Daniel Wozniak.
Daniel Wozniak.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who represents Daniel Patrick Wozniak, had asked for an evidentiary hearing similar to one that was held in the case of another client, Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in Orange County history.

In the Dekraai case, weeks of testimony led another judge to remove the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the case, a ruling that is under appeal.

In court Friday, Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley, who was the target of an earlier recusal motion by Sanders that was ultimately denied by the state Supreme Court, scolded Sanders and Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy for their contentious legal arguments that have at times turned personal.

“I’ve heard two arguments and both sides are saying exactly the same thing — my opponent is a jerk,” Conley said. “I’m a little shocked at the experience level of both attorneys engaging in ad hominem arguments. … This is just child’s play.”

In January, Orange County Superior Court Judge James Stotler recused himself from the Wozniak case when he said he had grown so angry with Sanders he did not believe he could maintain his objectivity anymore.

The acrimony began when Sanders learned his client agreed to an interview with the MSNBC program “Lockup.” Murphy said he alerted Sanders about the interview when the father of one of the victims saw an ad for it.

Sanders is now seeking the notes from the producer of the show to see if Orange County sheriff’s deputies at the jail conspired to arrange for the TV interview to damage Wozniak’s case. Next Friday, Conley will hear arguments on a motion by MSNBC to quash the search warrant.

Sanders has also raised questions about former jailhouse informant Fernando Perez befriending Wozniak to seek damaging statements from the defendant. Murphy has said he does not plan to use Perez as a witness or to introduce any information Perez gathered from Wozniak as evidence. The prosecutors said Perez’s encounters with Wozniak came before he was an official informant.

The animosity between Murphy and Sanders was apparent in court today, when much of the discussion over the requested evidentiary hearing revolved around Murphy being forced to cancel a Christmas vacation because of the timing of Sanders’ oft-delayed legal brief last year.

“If there’s blame here it’s on both sides,” Conley said, referring to the testy exchanges between prosecutor and defense attorney.

Conley refused to allow the evidentiary hearing, which Sanders requested in an effort to have the District Attorney’s Office recused from Wozniak’s case and to have the death penalty removed as a possible sentence.

Conley said his ruling was “without prejudice,” leaving Sanders the option to raise the issue again if he gathers more evidence. But based on Sanders’ current argument, the judge said the standard is too high for the recusal of a prosecutor.

“This recusal motion is not even close,” Conley said. “It’s a very high burden.”

The judge said Sanders would have to prove some sort of actual conflict in the case and that the conflict would make it likely the defendant would not get a fair trial, Conley said.

“I don’t find any showing of a real conflict of interest,” Conley said. “I just find that there’s two people who sure as heck don’t get along … and I think the both of you are doing a disservice to your client.”

Wozniak is accused of shooting Samuel Herr after luring him to the Los Alamitos Joint Forces military base in May 2010. Prosecutors allege he then used the victim’s cell phone to trick his friend, Juri Kibuishi, into going to Herr’s Costa Mesa apartment, where the defendant 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.

Trial is tentatively set for Oct. 2.

— City News Service

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