The trial of an accused double murderer facing the death penalty will again be postponed as the defendant’s attorneys ramp up another effort to get the judge presiding over the case disqualified.
Attorneys for Daniel Patrick Wozniak have filed a motion to get Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley booted despite having failed to do the same thing earlier this year, when similar motions were rejected by the state Supreme Court.
This time, however, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders claims he has new information that Conley, when he was a prosecutor in the 1980s, was aware of misconduct allegations related to the handling for informants in the county’s jails and did nothing about it.
Sanders subpoenaed Conley as a witness in his attempt at an evidentiary hearing into allegations of outrageous government misconduct regarding an informant’s encounter with Wozniak while they were both locked up in the county’s jail.
Sanders made the same arguments in his representation of the worst mass killer in the county’s history — Scott Dekraai — and persuaded a judge to kick the Orange County District Attorney’s Office off the penalty phase of the case, a ruling that is under appeal.
Sanders is also seeking to have Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm, a former prosecutor, testify in an evidentiary hearing.
Sanders’ motion to subpoena the judges was assigned to Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett, who Sanders also moved to disqualify because he was the sentencing judge for the inmate accused of violating Wozniak’s constitutional rights through illegal interrogation as a snitch.
Prickett denied Sanders’ motion to disqualify Prickett, allowing Sanders to make his case to subpoena Conley and Schwarm. Prickett said he would read Sanders’ 754-page motion, filed last month, and issue a ruling next Friday.
After the hearing before Prickett, the defendant was sent back to Conley’s courtroom, where it was decided that Sanders’ motion to recuse that judge would delay the planned trial of Wozniak, which was scheduled to begin next Friday.
Just like earlier this year, the motion likely will be sent to a judge in another county, who will issue a ruling.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kevin Brazile in March rejected Sanders’ motion to have Conley removed from the case, prompting appeals that were denied by the state Supreme Court.
Sanders is arguing that an “entrenched culture” of corruption exists when it comes to the handling of jailhouse informants, which encourages inmates to sometimes fabricate confessions so they get leniency from prosecutors.
He has cited cases Conley and Schwarm worked on as prosecutors that included informants that he would like to question the jurists about.
“This has been going on for 30 years,” Sanders told Prickett. “Judge Conley has been on the front lines for this.”
Sanders further argued Friday that the District Attorney’s Office cannot be trusted to turn over evidence that helps the defense as it is legally bound to do. The defense attorney is also trying to get Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy and his entire office kicked off the prosecution of Wozniak.
Murphy argued that Sanders cannot show that Wozniak has suffered any “prejudice” or harm in his case that would allow a judge to grant Sanders’ motions, therefore, all of the requests to remove the judges and prosecutors from the case should be denied.
In a reply to Sanders’ lengthy motion, Murphy blasted Sanders for misstating evidence in multiple cases he cites involving jailhouse informants. Murphy said in many of those cases, forensic evidence led to the convictions, not the testimony of snitches, and those convictions were upheld on appeal.
The snitch in question in Wozniak’s case is Fernando Perez, who was also a key player in the Dekraai case. Sanders argues that Perez violated Wozniak’s rights because he wasn’t allowed to be questioned by a government agent when he already had legal representation.
Murphy counters that Perez was not an official informant yet, was not asked to question Wozniak, and that what he ultimately provided to authorities was useless because the defendant already had made a “full confession” to Costa Mesa police.
Sanders cannot show that the jailers are part of the prosecution team, so the law prohibits him from seeking recusal of the prosecutors and dismissal of the death penalty. Murphy said Costa Mesa police are the lead investigators and the sheriff has not been involved in the case at all.
Murphy also blasted Sanders in court Friday for including a great deal of private information such as telephone numbers and addresses of witnesses, victims and informants in his massive legal filing. Sanders replied that he tried to have the motion filed under seal, which was denied by Conley.
On Friday, however, Conley, ordered the file sealed until next week so officials can redact the private information.
Murphy said it was “incredibly careless and reckless” to include the private information and that it could lead to someone getting killed by gangs looking for revenge.
Sanders angrily shot back, “We didn’t do it to endanger anybody. … I am absolutely glad to seal these documents.”
Wozniak is accused of shooting a friend, 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 another 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.
— City News Service