An accused double murderer’s attempt to have the death penalty dismissed as a possible punishment was denied Friday, clearing the way for his capital case trial to begin next month.
Daniel Patrick Wozniak’s motions to dismiss the death penalty and delay his trial were denied by Orange County Superior Court John Conley. Wozniak’s attempt at an evidentiary hearing on allegations of outrageous governmental conduct was also denied.
It was a turnabout for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which was booted from prosecuting Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history, by another judge who found that sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors were dishonest in months of testimony on allegations of outrageous governmental misconduct. That ruling is under appeal.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, the attorney for Dekraai and Wozniak, was attempting to “bootstrap alleged misconduct in over 40 other cases to demonstrate that the death penalty should be dismissed for Mr. Wozniak,” Conley wrote in his ruling.
“However, the appellate courts have been uniform in stating that the outrageous government misconduct doctrine cannot be based on violations of other persons’ rights, i.e., it cannot be asserted vicariously.”
Conley cited the appellate court’s ruling in the case against defendants convicted in the beating death of John Derek Chamberlain in the Orange County Jail because fellow inmates mistakenly thought he was a child molester. Even in that case, where an investigation found deputies “engaged in abhorrent conduct and were derelict in their duties,” it did not affect the defendants’ rights to a fair trial.
Judges frown on dismissing a case because it could lead to the freeing of a dangerous person, Conley wrote.
On the one hand, Conley praised Sanders and his team’s lengthy legal arguments, which amounted in some cases to hundreds of pages with thousands more pages of exhibits. He said it showed “amazing diligence and unprecedented thoroughness of preparation.”
On the other hand, the legal arguments displayed an “informal style, more consistent with a university research paper than a legal brief,” Conley wrote.
“For example, it sometimes cites informal, non-legal sources for facts, (for example), the OC Weekly, Los Angeles Times, websites, a flyer from a law school, what comments prosecutors allegedly made to the media as reported by the media, testimony in a civil deposition, copies of a civil complaint, letters, emails, etc.,” Conley wrote. “The briefing frequently engages in undisguised speculation.”
Conley also brushed aside Sanders’ argument that his client’s jailers worked with producers of the MSNBC show “Lockup” to get Wozniak to participate in an embarrassing interview that would make him seem callous to jurors because he denies wrongdoing.
Wozniak, “an intelligent adult, signed a written waiver form for the television crew that all of his statements to them could later be played on nationwide television to potentially millions of viewers,” Conley wrote.
Also, in the interview, Wozniak “comes across as a genial, sensitive guy, denies the charges and comments on how nice the victims were” before he claims he was so upset he tried suicide and “shows the viewer that he has turned to the Bible for solace,” Conley wrote.
Sanders has tried to argue that prosecutors have withheld exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys and used jailhouse informants to solicit damning statements that violate their constitutional rights for three decades, making it impossible for his team to trust prosecutors in the Wozniak case.
The common thread in the Wozniak and Dekraai cases is that informant Fernando Perez spoke with both men in custody.
In the Dekraai case, the Perez conversations with Dekraai led prosecutors to wire the defendant’s cell, which captured Dekraai making callous remarks about the murders he committed at a Seal Beach beauty salon.
In Wozniak’s case, prosecutors concede Perez spoke with Wozniak, but he was acting on his own and the District Attorney’s Office has no interest in using any of that evidence against him because he allegedly confessed to the killings anyway, so establishing his guilt is not expected to be too difficult.
The trial itself is expected to take about three weeks. Attorneys will return to court on Wednesday to discuss the wording of questionnaires to be sent to a large pool of prospective jurors as a weeding-out process.
Next Friday, the attorneys will argue a motion challenging the alleged confession on Wozniak’s claim that he invoked his right to counsel and police kept questioning him anyway. Prosecutors say Wozniak freely volunteered to tell them what he did.
Jury selection could begin by mid-November, with opening statements in early December.
“I’m very pleased,” said Steve Herr, the father of one of the victims. “It looks like we’re going to get started next month, which is what we were always asking for.”
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 another friend, Juri Kibuishi, into going to Herr’s Costa Mesa apartment, where Wozniak shot her and then made it look as if Herr killed her during a sexual assault.
Wozniak, who then allegedly returned to the base to dismember Herr’s body, is accused of committing the crimes to steal from the victims to pay for his wedding and honeymoon.
— City News Service