SANTA ANA — A man was formally sentenced by Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley on Sept. 23 to receive the death penalty for using a firearm to murder his neighbor for financial gain and murdering the victim’s friend in an effort to derail the investigation by framing the first victim.
Daniel Patrick Wozniak, 32, of Costa Mesa was found guilty by a jury on Dec. 16, 2015, of two felony counts of special circumstances murder with sentencing enhancements for committing multiple murders and murder for financial gain. The sentencing enhancement for the personal discharge of a firearm causing death was also found true. The jury recommended the death penalty on Jan. 11, 2016.
This case was investigated by the Costa Mesa Police Department (CMPD) and was prosecuted by Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy of the Homicide Unit.
Circumstances of the Crime
Prior to May 21, 2010, Wozniak plotted the murder of his neighbor, 26-year-old Samuel Herr, who lived in the same apartment complex, with the intention of stealing the victim’s substantial savings. On the afternoon of May 21, 2010, Wozniak lured Herr from their Costa Mesa apartment complex and drove him to the theater facility at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base. Wozniak was familiar with the theater because he had previously acted in plays at that location.
Once inside the theater, Wozniak murdered Herr by shooting him twice in the head with the intention of stealing the victim’s savings. He then left Herr’s body in the theater and stole the victim’s ATM card, wallet, and cell phone.
Later that evening, Wozniak used Herr’s cell phone to text message Herr’s friend, 23-year-old Juri “Julie” Kibuishi. Wozniak was acquainted with Kibuishi and was her “friend” on Facebook. Wozniak pretended to be Herr in the text messages and arranged for Kibuishi to come to Herr’s Costa Mesa apartment.
Shortly after midnight on May 22, 2010, Kibuishi arrived at Herr’s apartment. Wozniak met her at the door of Herr’s apartment and lured her inside into the bedroom, where he murdered her by shooting her twice in the head. Wozniak then partially removed Kibuishi’s clothing to stage the crime scene to appear as though the victim had been sexually assaulted.
On the afternoon of May 22, 2010, Wozniak returned to the theater, cutting off Herr’s clothes and dismembering the victim’s body by removing his head, left arm, and the lower portion of his right arm. He left the victim’s torso and legs in the theater and took the dismembered body parts to discard them in El Dorado Park Nature Center in Long Beach, a large nature reserve with trails and two lakes.
At approximately 9:20 p.m. on May 22, 2010, officers from CMPD discovered Kibuishi’s body upon responding to a call regarding a possible murder from Herr’s father, who had gone to the Costa Mesa apartment to check on his son. Herr’s whereabouts at that time were unknown and he initially became the primary suspect in Kibuishi’s murder.
Following the two murders, Wozniak gave Herr’s ATM card to a 17-year-old acquaintance and instructed the minor to withdraw money from the victim’s account at various ATMs in Long Beach. Costa Mesa detectives investigating the case learned of the ATM withdrawals and arrested the minor after observing him using the victim’s bank card. In all, $2,000 was taken from Herr’s bank account.
Based on information learned through the ongoing investigation and the arrest of the juvenile, Wozniak was arrested for the murders of Herr and Kibuishi on May 26, 2010, at Tsunami restaurant in Huntington Beach. Wozniak was at dinner celebrating his bachelor party in anticipation of his upcoming wedding, planned to take place in Long Beach that Friday, May 28, 2010.
CMPD detectives discovered Herr’s body on May 27, 2010, at the base. A search for Herr’s dismembered body parts at El Dorado Park Nature Center was conducted by CMPD with assistance from the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD), FBI, search and rescue personnel from Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties, and investigators from the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office (LACO). The victim’s head and parts of his left arm, which were decomposed and scavenged by animals, were found over the next two days.
On May 27, 2010, Wozniak was transported from the jail to Western Medical Center to be treated for self-inflicted head injuries and was released back to the jail on May 29, 2010. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) charged the defendant on May 28, 2010.
Herr and Kibuishi were both students at Orange Coast College and Herr was a military veteran.
At the sentencing on Sept. 23, four members of the victims’ families delivered emotional victim impact statements pursuant to Marsy’s Law. The statements in their entirety are available at www.orangecountyda.org by selecting “Reports” under the “Reports” pull-down menu.
For their assistance in the investigation, CMPD and OCDA thanked the FBI, LBPD, Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, LACO, Orange County Coroner’s Office, and Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.
According to City News Service, Conley last Friday denied a defense motion for a new trial and refused to dismiss the death penalty as a potential sentence based on claims of government misconduct in the case. Conley also criticized Wozniak’s attorney, Scott Sanders, for filing a 132-page motion during his arguments that morning.
Noting that he had denied Sanders’ motion for a delay in sentencing two days earlier, the judge asked, “Isn’t this just an attempt through the back door to get the continuance you wanted?”
Sanders explained that his filing was a response to prosecutors’ criticisms of the defense attorney and that he was told to file it if he wanted. Conley ruled that the filing be “stricken,” but it will be part of the record for an appeal.
Sanders again argued that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department engaged in misconduct in the handling of jailhouse informants, particularly Fernando Perez, who heard Wozniak make incriminating statements.
But Perez was never a witness in the trial, since Wozniak had already confessed to Costa Mesa police and Perez’s information was redundant, Murphy argued previously.
Sanders also argued that Murphy has made “inconsistent” arguments in the separate cases against Wozniak and his fiancee at the time, Rachel Buffett, who was charged as an accessory after the fact and is awaiting trial. The defense attorney quoted a police lieutenant as saying that Buffett should have been charged with murder.
Conley said that while there was evidence that Buffett may have known about the murders. there wasn’t enough evidence to show she did anything to help Wozniak kill the victims.
Following is the victim impact statement from Kibuishi’s mother, June:
“First of all, I would like to thank you, Your Honor, for everything you have done for us and the Herr family. We believe you handled this case in a very fair manner and we truly appreciate you keeping the victims’ families as a priority to bring this case to closure.
“Also, we are truly thankful for Mr. Matt Murphy and all of the members of the DA office for your efforts and support throughout this painful experience.
“I need to ask Your Honor for permission to address the next message to Mr. Wozniak for the first and last time.
“On May 22, 2010, you took my beautiful, caring, loving daughter’s precious life to cover up your heinous and planned crime for the pathetic reason of wanting money for your wedding and honeymoon. You took advantage of my daughter’s kindness and care for her friend. You knew she would help her friend Sam and you took her precious life just to be used as a decoy. You took her precious life to cover up the crime you just committed. You took her precious life and then you disgraced her by pulling off her pants!!!
“To you, my daughter was just a decoy … nothing else. You had absolutely no other reason to take her away from us.
“She was 23 years old, full of dreams and motivation to pursue her career in the fashion industry. She was the sunshine of our family with so much energy and so much love. She always brightened up our life with her goofiness and lots of music. She introduced me to so many great music that she made a CD for me that I still listen to in my car while I drive coming home from work, crying out her name, just by myself.
“She would always be there for not only her friends but for her brothers and sister and of course for her dad and mom … all her loving family. I still remember the day our entire family rushed to the hospital to meet my first grandson, Julie’s oldest brother’s first baby, Julie’s first nephew. I will never forget her expression on her face when she held her nephew for the first time. She was overwhelmed with joy becoming Auntie Julie … That was six months before you took her away from us.
“Her grandfather passed away in 2012. Unfortunately, he was not able to see this day to come. Until he joined his first granddaughter in heaven, he kept saying over and over that JULIE SHOULD NOT GO BEFORE ME. He never stopped saying that until he took his last breath.
“Julie’s grandmother, who is 88 years old now, still cries looking at her photo. She cries when she hears Julie’s name, telling me how much she truly wished to see her first granddaughter, Julie, in her wedding dress, becoming a bride … which was of course my dream too.
“I know from the bottom of my heart that she would be a beautiful bride. And definitely she would be the most loving mother.
“BUT ALL OF THAT WAS TOTALLY DESTROYED because you just wanted to use her precious LIFE to cover up your crime.
“Our family came from Japan more than 30 years ago. We worked hard, raising children, hoping they would grow up with an open mind, accepting variety of cultures and races in this beautiful country, and I wanted them to learn that no matter what race you are, what language you speak, the most important thing in this world is to become a GOOD HUMAN BEING with a GOOD HEART.
“And I am very proud to say that all of them grew up to be the most loving, caring, and responsible adults with common courtesy and common sense that has been lost these days. Being a mother, I want all of my children to always be happy no matter what they do for their life or where they live in this world.
“On that day of May 22, 2010, my heart was ripped apart. I felt an indescribable amount of pain hit my body when I found out what happened to my baby. WHY???? WHAT DID SHE DO TO YOU???? HOW COULD YOU DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT TO MY BABY??
“Still to this day, those questions have not been answered. But all I know is that my daughter was the most caring friend who did what she knew that she should do to help Sam, which I am very proud of…
“Six years and four months, I sat behind you every time I came to court. Seeing you coming out, smiling for the cameras and audience, enjoying being the center of attention. Did I ever see any remorse? NO, not even once. Your behavior these last six years and four months convinced me that you’re not worthy of being called a human being. You show no remorse and you show no guilt for taking my beautiful, loving daughter Julie away from us.
“Our family has gone through so much these past six years. Not only did we endure this emotional, painful roller coaster, we suffered many physical illnesses most likely caused by the surge in stress in all of our lives. We battled two cases of cancer and my father suffered a heart attack … and left us to join his loving first granddaughter.
“We’ve had to sacrifice so many work days to attend these frustrating hearings. In the end, the only thing holding us together is the love from our family and all our loving friends.
“Your Honor, being a mother, I truly believe that if there was any heavier sentence than the death penalty in this world, HE would be the one to deserve it for what he had done to my daughter Julie and Sam.
“There is no word to describe our pain and anger and frustration we have been going through. That will never heal or go away until I reunite with my daughter someday.
“No matter what, my Valentine baby daughter Julie will never ever come back to us. The only thing our family can do is to try to move forward one step at a time. In order to do that, we have waited for this day to come for more than six years so that we can at least close this most horrible chapter of our lives, and I am sure my daughter and my dad up in heaven are always watching over us … both of them waiting for this day to come.”