An Orange County Superior Court judge Tuesday rejected a defense attorney’s attempt to have two other judges called as witnesses in a capital case against an accused double murderer.
At issue is the alleged improper use of jailhouse informants, and both of the judges that would have been called as witnesses were prosecutors before being named to the bench.
Judge Gregg Prickett granted a motion to quash subpoenas of Judge John Conley, who is presiding over Daniel Patrick Wozniak’s trial, and Judge Walter Schwarm.
Wozniak is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 30, but attorneys will return to court Oct. 16 to discuss a motion to take the death penalty off the table. Prosecutors are seeking capital punishment for the defendant, should he be convicted.
Wozniak’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, has alleged many of the same arguments regarding outrageous governmental misconduct in the use of jailhouse informants that were raised in another case, his defense of the worst mass killer in Orange County history, Scott Dekraai.
In that other case, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed the District Attorney’s Office from the penalty prosecution of Dekraai, a ruling that is under appeal.
Sanders argued that Conley and Schwarm have knowledge of alleged governmental misconduct in the use of jailhouse informants dating back to the 1980s, when they were prosecutors.
Prickett said Conley and Schwarm could be called as witnesses, but he found that Sanders did not present a “compelling reason” to do so in this case.
“The evidence the defense seeks to elicit from each of the witnesses in question would not be the most direct testimony on the proffered subjects, and thus would be cumulative to testimony that could be presented in the forms of other witnesses,” Prickett wrote.
Prickett also wrote, “The defense has not demonstrated that either of these witnesses had unique personal knowledge of the relevant information.”
Prickett left open the possibility that Sanders could raise the issue again if he gathers new “facts and/or a different theory.”
Last Friday, Conley ruled that a second motion to get him recused from the Wozniak case duplicated the first one, which has been rejected by the state Supreme Court.
Conley said Sanders’ second move to have him removed from the case was “based on hearsay, speculation, allegations of facts not pertinent to the issues in this proceeding, and references to inconsequential circumstances that in no way suggest any bias or prejudice” on Conley’s part. Sanders said he would appeal the ruling.
When attorneys return to Conley’s court on Oct. 16, they will also discuss the status of redacting personally identifying information of witnesses, defendants and others named in Sanders’ massive death penalty dismissal motion. Sanders wants a five-week evidentiary hearing on his allegations of misconduct.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy on Friday criticized Sanders for filing his motion, which contains thousands of pages of exhibits, because he said it identifies home address and other information of witnesses, victims and defendants.
Conley kept a seal on the motion until the attorneys can redact the information.
“In a week with the help of two law clerks, I still haven’t gotten through one box” of court papers, Murphy said. “I don’t have 16 weeks to clean up this mess and I don’t know what to do about it.”
Murphy said the home address of one of the more prominent jailhouse informants is in the documents despite his status in witness protection. Murphy said it puts the informant’s wife and young children at risk.
Sanders vowed to Conley that his office would pick up the case and go through five binders of information a day and get it all redacted by mid- October.
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.
He allegedly committed the crimes to steal from the victims to pay for his wedding and honeymoon, prosecutors said.
Sanders’ attempt at booting Conley failed when the state Supreme Court refused to take up his appeal on prior denials of the motion. This time, 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.
The dispute revolves around an informant’s encounter with Wozniak while they were both locked up in the county’s jail. Murphy has said he has no interest in using the informant as a witness because the defendant confessed to Costa Mesa police.
— Wire reports