Killer Performance: Investigation of Calif. murders unfolds like a big-screen mystery
After a young woman's murder, police thought her killer was on the run … or was he?
Produced by Liza Finley, Jamie Stolz, Gayane Keshishyan Mendez and Chris Young Ritzen
[This story originally aired on Oct. 8, 2016. It was updated on Sept. 15, 2018.]
In May 2010, Julie Kibuishi was found dead in Sam Herr's bedroom. She was shot twice in the head. Someone wrote "All Yours, F— You" on her shirt. Herr's father found the scene and called police. Given the circumstances of the crime scene, police believed Herr was a suspect. His friends and family thought otherwise. Herr, a former solder in the Army, and Kibuishi, were considered great friends.
However, nothing in this case was what it seemed. With Herr presumed to be on the run, police followed another trail, which led to an up-and-coming actor named Daniel Wozniak, who was engaged to actress Rachel Buffett. Wozniak had a gruesome story to tell.
Indeed, the investigation unfolded like a big-screen mystery, with Wozniak starring in the lead role. Police tracked a string of leads that led to a California theater, through a series of local ATM machines, and ultimately a California courthouse. But could investigators unravel the story and find out exactly what happened to Kibuishi and Herr?
In all his years as a prosecutor, Matt Murphy had never seen a case quite like this.
"Even the most demented Hollywood writers would not have dreamed up an ending like this," he told correspondent Tracy Smith.
On Friday, May 21, 2010, after meeting her brother for dinner in Long Beach, Calif., Julie Kibuishi suddenly disappeared.
"Julie's friends were texting her frantically, text after text, 'Hey Julie, your mom called me, can you call me.' 'Hey Julie is everything OK?'" Murphy said. "By the next day … Julie's mom was desperate."
"This kind of thing never happen to my daughter," June Kibuishi told Smith. "So we called … police … and I said, 'I don't care, I don't care where you find her. But I need to find her.'"
On Saturday morning, Steve Herr went to his son Sam's apartment after not hearing from him.
"I said, 'I'm gonna drive down and make sure Sam's OK 'cause he's not answering his phone," Herr told Smith. "I had the key to his apartment … I walked in … it looked clean. Everything was fine. Then I glanced into the — bedroom and that's where … I saw a body there."
Steve Herr's mind was reeling.
Steve Herr: I see her. She's dead. Jesus Christ!
911 Operator: Does your son know who it is?
Steve Herr: He's not here! Jesus!
Julie Kibuishi, 23, lay dead in his son Sam's apartment.
"What happened? Did this happen? Did this happen?" said Steve Herr.
"Julie was there … The white sheets … were just full of blood," Det. Jose Morales told "48 Hours" correspondent Tracy Smith. "She was wearing a tiara. …very dark … full head of hair just covered in blood."
"Deceased, with a gunshot wound to her head," said Detective Ed Everett.
Detectives Ed Everett, Mike Cohen, and Jose Morales took on a case laced with mystery, starting with that scrawled obscenity – "All Yours F— You" — punctuating the already obscene murder scene.
"I've never seen anything like that before," Det. Morales said. "It seemed like there was a message. Maybe a love triangle happening. And it just didn't seem right."
"What do you mean, it didn't seem right?" Smith asked.
"The pieces just didn't fit correctly at the time," Det. Morales replied.
Detective Cohen had to break the news to Julie's parents.
"'Are you Mrs. Kibuishi and Mr. Kibuishi?' And I said, 'Yes.' And they came in and one of them told me, 'OK, Mrs. Kibuishi, I want you to sit down.' My hands started shaking," June Kibuishi explained. "And then they told us that they found her … And she was shot in the head. Yeah. But first I said, 'No, No, that's not my daughter. No, that's not my daughter."
Julie, 23, was a dancer and fashion designer with her own style.
"She's such a goofball," said June Kibuishi.
"A goofball?" Smith asked.
"Uh-huh. When she's home, you know she's home," June Kibuishi replied, adding, "She's singing and the music's on."
"What do you want people to know?" Smith asked.
"It's just, my daughter was such — she's the person that always kind of take care of friends," June Kibuishi replied.
But now Julie Kibuishi, the young woman her mom lovingly calls a "goofball" had been shot dead and possibly raped in Sam's apartment. And investigators were about to make another discovery.
"Yes. …We learned he was involved in a homicide," Det Everett said.
Sam had been arrested and charged with murder before. At 18, he got mixed up with a rough crowd of that included gangbangers.
"A person was killed, murdered. And then another person was killed in retribution to that. And Sam, amongst 23 others, were accused of participating in that," Steve Herr explained. "When he went to court … He was acquitted, he was exonerated. …And that was it. That part, that part of life was over with."
Asked if Sam was ever in a gang, his parents replied, "No."
But to the cops, Sam's past confirmed all their current suspicions: Sam was their killer.
"Sam was our guy. It was his apartment," sad Det. Everett.
And when cops checked Julie's cell phone, it was loaded with messages from Sam begging her to come over.
"He was just a very caring guy. That's the one thing that I learned, how someone could care so much about everyone else.
Miles Foltz met Sam as he was turning his life around — leaving his bad choices behind, fighting for his country, enlisting in the Army, and deploying to Afghanistan.
"We were both stationed at a base out in the middle of nowhere," he said.
"How good a friend was Sam?" Smith asked.
"He was my best friend," Foltz replied.
Foltz and Sam would travel the world together. Sam, always finding the cheapest hotels, always saving his money.
"Ibiza, we went to Israel, Prague, Oktoberfest, down to Munich," said Foltz.
"He always wanted to go places, but he always wanted to be a cheapskate about it," he continued with a laugh.
Asked what Sam did with his money, his father said he saved it.
"How much money had he saved?" Smith asked.
"Over $60,000," Steve Herr said. "And it was all from Afghanistan. He saved every penny."
And when they finished fighting a war, the best friends headed home to Southern California, where Sam shared his world with Foltz.
Foltz even met Julie.
"They were kind of like brother and sister," he said.
"We met her once. Because she was tutoring Sammy with anthropology, which by the way he got an 'A' in that class," Sam's mother, Raquel Herr said.
"And she was an angel. She was very, very nice," said Steve Herr.
And according to his parents, the bottom line on Sam?
"Just a typical guy. Just a fun-loving guy," said Steve Herr.
"What did you love about Sam?" Smith asked.
"Everything," said Steve Herr.
But police are certain both parents and friends don't know the dark truth about Sam.
"We wanted to find him pretty bad," said Det. Cohen.
"There was no activity on his phone, so we assumed it was turned off," said Det. Everett.
And the cops aren't the only detectives on this case. Steve Herr pulled up his son's bank account.
"Money was being withdrawn everyday," he told Smith.
Cash from an ATM in Long Beach, California.
"At a … ATM at Chase," said Steve Herr.
"At a Chase ATM. And then a pizza place called?"
"Eccos," Steve Herr affirmed.
"So you decided to go there?" Smith asked.
"I did go there," Steve Herr said. "I was hoping to see Sam come in, maybe ordering something, or see his car."
"But did you see?"
"I saw nothing. No. I saw nothing."
Foltz went out looking for Sam, too.
"And nothing?" Smith asked.
"Nothing," Foltz affirmed.
"Did you think it was possible that Sam could've killed this woman and been on the run?" Smith asked Foltz.
"No. There was never a thought in my mind that that was possible," he said.
Exhausted, past midnight sitting at the kitchen table, Steve and Raquel Herr start dialing Sam's friends, one of whom gives them a phone number for someone they had never heard of — Daniel Wozniak. It was the only number they had with a Long Beach area code.
"And the money was being withdrawn?" Smith asked.
"From Long Beach," Steve Herr replied. "…the area code … belonged to Dan Wozniak."
Dan Wozniak, a local actor with a magnetic personality – who would soon be starring in a real-life police drama.
THE SEARCH FOR SAM
Julie Kibuishi was dead and Sam Herr was still nowhere to be found, as police investigators spread across Orange County and loved ones tried to make sense of the impossible.
"'Where is Sam? What's going on?' Because he's not a guy to, you know murder someone," said Foltz.
"Who killed her? Don't know… Still the investigation is ongoing," said Masa Kibuishi, Julie's father.
"The first thing they said was Sam … killed my daughter … and then ran away … he's on the run," said June Kibuishi.
"What was going through your head?" Smith asked Sam's mother.
"I hope Sam is fine,' that he's safe. I thought maybe they got him tied down somewhere … ransom or something," Raquel Herr replied.
"It's … hard in that sense that you know there's something going on and you don't know all the pieces. And you just want the answer. And you're willing to do anything to figure out the answer," said Foltz.
The answer would begin with Steve Herr dialing that Long Beach number one of Sam's friends had mentioned. Dan Wozniak answered the call.
"And he sounded nervous," Steve Herr said. "And that's when he told me Sam has problems … he was having … family problems."
"Family problems?" Smith asked. "Why was that such a red flag to you?"
"Because of the closeness Sam, myself and Raquel had," he replied. "There were no family problems … Are you kidding me?"
And then along came Wesley Freilich.
"So how'd you meet Daniel Wozniak?" Smith asked.
"My mom was a theater teacher, so by nature I drifted towards acting as an extracurricular activity," he replied.
The actors met on stage back when Freilich was in middle school.
"Fantastic guy. One of those guys that you actually wanted to be around. Made you laugh. Very sweet person," he said of Wozniak.
And in 2010, Wozniak was a small-town star in the play "Nine," down at the community theater.
"Did you trust Dan?" Smith asked Freilich.
"Yeah," he said.
Wozniak told then-17-year-old Freilich he could make fast money using a bank card, even though the name on the card read "Sam Herr."
"So I went to the ATM, did exactly like he told me and withdrew money, and then came back and gave him the money," he explained.
"It was being used in the Long Beach area," Det. Everett said of Sam;s credit card. "There was an individual pulling money out."
"It wasn't Sam taking out the money?" Smith asked
"It wasn't Sam," said Det. Everett.
"Who was it?"
"A young, 17- to 20-year-old white male … baseball hat," said the detective.
It was Wesley Freilich in disguise, flashing Sam Herr's bank card.
"Somebody ordered a pizza on Sam's credit card?" Smith asked Det. Everett.
"Yes," he replied.
"So, I order the pizza," said Freilich.
"What did you think when you saw that?" Smith asked Det. Everett.
"Well, we thought Sam was getting sloppy because he used his credit card to get a pizza," he replied.
"So, of course, you went to that house," Smith noted.
"Yes," the detective replied.
"Finished the pizza. Was inside. Heard a helicopter," Freilich continued. "Look outside. Two cop cars. FBI van … helicopter…And that's when I open the door and they say, 'Get on the ground.' And that's when they all come in."
Shaken and scared, Freilich told investigators all about Daniel Wozniak. How Wozniak insisted it was perfectly OK for Freilich to withdraw money from that ATM in Long Beach. It turned out Wozniak was Sam's neighbor. And he was getting married in a few days, when police showed up at his bachelor party.
"Daniel seemed surprised to see us. Seemed somewhat a little nervous," said Det. Everett.
"You could see the blood drain from his face," the detective explained. "And he made a statement to me that he would tell us everything."
"What were you thinking?" Smith asked.
"I thought at that point he was gonna lead us to Sam," he replied.
Wozniak's wedding looked like it might just have to be postponed. Fellow actor and blushing bride-to-be Rachel Buffett would later tell Dr. Phil McGraw all about it.
"I first met Dan doing a play," she said on "Dr. Phil." "I quickly fell for him. In late 2008 he asked me to marry him. …It looked as though we were going to have an awesome future."
But the curtain was about to come down on those plans.
Wozniak: I will talk to you about anything if it gets me to my wedding on Friday. That's what I will promise.
Det. Everett: You're not going to be leaving here anytime soon…
Convinced Wozniak is somehow covering for Sam, he is charged as an accessory to the murder of Julie Kibuishi.
Wozniak: Yes, I helped Sam get away. Yes, I did not know what he was planning until then.
Wozniak first tells detectives he saw Sam the same day Julie was murdered. And, he claims, Sam drove off with a mysterious man in a black hat. But then…
"He told us that was a lie, and that there wasn't really a person with a black hat in the car. It was him and Sam initially," said Det. Cohen.
"No guy with a black hat?" Smith asked.
"No guy with a black hat," Cohen affirmed.
The interrogation wore on:
Det. Delgadillo: Did you see Julie dead in the apartment?
Wozniak: No, I did not.
Det. Delgadillo: Were you there when she was shot?
Wozniak: No, I was not.
Det. Delgadillo: Are you sure about that?
Wozniak: I don't even know when she was shot.
Under the spotlight, the actor heightens the drama, telling detectives Sam had actually confessed to him:
Det. Cohen: You're driving with Sam and he tells you that he did something bad.
Wozniak: He did something bad. I'm on the freeway when he tells me this.
Wozniak: I pull off the freeway and I'm like, "What the f—? What, what have, what have you gotten me into? What are you doing?"
Wozniak: He's like, "Dude, it's not good. There's a body in my apartment. I shot somebody."
"Daniel said that Sam had told him that Julie Kibuishi was in his room and that he killed her," Det. Cohen told Smith.
Then, according to Wozniak, Sam Herr issued a death threat:
Wozniak: He said, "Well, I know where you live."
Det. Cohen: OK.
Wozniak: He's like, "You rat me out I'm going to f—–n' kill you."
Wozniak spun the tale: Sam as a killer on the run, desperate for cash. Wesley Freilich made the withdrawals. And Wozniak, in exchange for his silence, took a cut of Sam's money as Sam plotted his escape.
"Did it seem like Daniel was willing to tell you where Sam was?" Smith asked Det. Cohen.
"No. Not at all," he replied.
"Did you think Daniel knew where Sam was?"
"My gut instinct, yes," said Det. Cohen.
Det. Michael Delgadillo to Wozniak: And there's more to this then you're telling us, alright? There's a whole lot more.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy would eventually be tasked with putting all the pieces together in a case that shocked even the veteran D.A.
"As far as the cases I've done, this is as ugly and as ruthless and as horrific as anything I have ever seen," said Murphy.
Det. Delgadillo: Do you want to talk to us — yes or no?
MORE RED FLAGS
It's almost past 2 a.m., four hours after getting arrested as an accessory to murder, and Daniel Wozniak is still insisting he doesn't know where Sam Herr is:
Det.Delgadillo: We wanna talk about what happened to Sam.
Wozniak: I don't know what happened to Sam.
Sometimes whispering, sometimes yelling, Wozniak stuck to the script — he dropped Sam off and was expecting to hear from him soon:
Wozniak: I don't know what else you want me to say… I don't know! I don't know!
Wozniak: What I just told you was the honest to God truth
Suspecting he was lying, the detectives turned up the heat.
"You always wanna have that good guy/bad guy kinda cop thing going, and it always works," Det. Cohen explained. "In our case it worked real well."
The harder they pushed, the more Wozniak's story changed. He went from saying he never entered Sam's apartment to this:
Wozniak: He came down and said, "Help me." I went upstairs and yes, I saw the goddamn body. Is that what you want to hear?
Wozniak goes on to make his biggest mistake yet:
Det. Everett: What'd you see?
Wozniak: Saw two gun shots in her head.
"Red flag?" Smith asked Prosecutor Matt Murphy.
"Yes, beyond red flag. Alarm bells going off," he replied.
It was that statement, says Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, that put Daniel Wozniak in a whole new category: prime suspect.
"You can't see the bullet holes. What you saw on the back of her head actually was brain matter. That's what you saw," Murphy explained. "You can't see bullet holes in the back of her head."
"That's really where it turned," Murphy continued.
Detectives now believed he knew more than he was saying. But they still didn't know what. They decided to bring in Rachel Buffett to see if that would tell them more.
"They wanna see what she's gonna do," Murphy explained. "They wanna test and see could she be involved in this."
Rachel Buffett barely reacted to the news that the man she was set to marry the following day was under arrest for covering up a murder — or that her wedding was off.
"Did she scream at him? Did she cry?" Smith asked Det. Jose Morales.
"No," he replied. "Not one time."
It was another huge red flag to the detectives.
"Daniel told you that Rachel knew nothing. Did it seem like she knew nothing? Smith asked.
"No, it seemed like she knew more," Det. Morales said. "It almost seemed to us that she was trying to figure out what have you told them that I need to know."
When the two talked on a recorded phone call from jail, it was clear she at least knew about one thing: a backpack Daniel had given to his brother, Tim, to throw away:
Buffett: Tim says he has evidence with him or he knew where it was or something.
Wozniak: Then I'm doomed.
Buffett: Do you know that Tim had some evidence?
Wozniak: Yeah. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.
Buffett: This is ridiculous and I have to go tell the detectives the truth.
Wozniak: That can't be found. Babe, um, listen to me. I'm going to go doing something right now and you're not going to see me for the rest of your life. Do you understand that?
Buffett: No, no.
Wozniak: I have to tell the truth on what I did. And I think you now know what it is. And it's bad. Imagine the worst. And that's what I did.
The police did find that backpack and just as Wozniak had said, it led to his doom.
"He knows what's in that backpack because he put it there. Shell casings from Julie's murder, Sam's wallet, Sam's ID, the checkbook, Sam's bloody clothes," Murphy said. "This is a bonanza of evidence. He knows he's done."
That afternoon, Daniel Wozniak sent word to the detectives that he wanted to talk.
"He looked emotionally drained," Det. Cohen said. "He just started speaking to us."
"What did he say?" Smith asked.
"That he did it," Cohen replied.
Wozniak: I'm crazy and I did it.
Det. Delgadillo: You did what?
Wozniak: I killed Julie and I killed Sam.
The detectives couldn't believe what they were hearing. Sam Herr, the man they believed killed Julie Kibuishi, was dead. Not a murderer, but another victim in Wozniak's twisted scheme.
"What went through your head at that point?" Smith asked Det. Cohen.
"Well, we knew that now we just had to listen to him. Ask him some questions … what he did with Sam. That was our biggest thing 'cause we wanted to find Sam at that point in time," he replied.
In a cold, matter-of-fact tone, Wozniak told the detectives where to find Sam; at least pieces of him. After shooting the war hero, Wozniak dismembered him with an ax and saw, and then tossed some of Sam's body parts across a park — not even bothering to bury them.
"I was in shock," Det. Everett said. "…to hear the grizzly part of the dismemberment and then discarding the body parts in the park and then his, just overall, attitude was just chilling for me."
"They said, 'Steve, we gotta — come over. We gotta see you,'" Steve Herr said. "They pulled up. And they came in. And they said Sam was murdered."
"That's when I ran upstairs to the room and I lost it," said Raquel Herr.
The detectives didn't tell the grieving parents the grisly details of their son's murder until the next day.
"They called me up and said, 'Steve, before you find out by the news, Sam was dismembered,'" Steve Herr continued. "That's when I just went off the end, deep end. I was angry. I was angry."
The police were able to find all of Sam's scattered body parts, except his hand and head.
"The next day, the Saturday, was his birthday," Steve Herr said. "I was praying for them to find Sam's head. A father has to pray on his son's birthday that they find his head. Go ahead and tell me how I feel."
Sam's head was found in the park under scattered leaves on his 27th birthday; his hand was never found. He was given a hero's burial with full military honors.
Sam Herr's alleged killer, Daniel Wozniak, was immediately charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
Wozniak's brother, Tim, and Rachel Buffett would also be arrested. Not for murder, but as accessories after the fact. Tim Wozniak for hiding that backpack, and cops say Rachel Buffett lied to them either to protect Daniel or to cover her own tracks.
"We always felt Rachel was a part of this … she was living with him," said Steve Herr.
"Do you think that Rachel was involved in this from the beginning?" Smith asked.
"Yes. Yes, that she knew about it. . She knew about it before this happened." he replied.
While awaiting trial, Buffett — by then out on bail – made that appearance on "Dr. Phil" telling everyone she didn't know a thing:
Dr. Phil McGraw: Did you know that he had any involvement in these murders at all?
Rachel Buffett: Not until after the police did.
Steve Herr was not about to let Buffett go on national TV without confronting her:
Steve Herr: I was aghast when … I get a call saying you're going on TV. …My son is dead. He was cut up into pieces and you to come on here and, and go on the TV stations. "Poor me." That offends me.
Rachel Buffett: I understand. And maybe, I made a bad judgment call by coming on here, but I didn't come out when everything first happened and said, "Oh, look at this horrible situation. I'm the victim." You know, you didn't see me selling my story to Hollywood to make a movie.
Steve Herr: Not yet.
No Hollywood version could be worse than hearing the killer describing how and why he did it.
A KILLER'S CHILLING WORDS
The face Daniel Wozniak presented to the world: fun-loving actor — a real nice guy.
But that is not who he is, says prosecutor Matt Murphy.
"The real face of Daniel Wozniak is dark and manipulative and flat-out evil," he told Smith.
A man so evil, he planned and executed two savage murders. Why? To pay for his honeymoon.
Wozniak: It was all just about the money, that was it.
Desperate to impress his bride, the groom-to-be set his sights on friend and neighbor, Sam Herr, who he knew had saved all that money as a soldier.
Wozniak told the police that he lured Sam to the attic of the theatre pretending he needed help moving something. Sam being Sam obliged, says mom Raquel.
"He loved to help people … but he also … was very naïve," she said. "He just trusted people."
He trusted Wozniak enough to turn his back on him. That's when the actor shot him.
Wozniak: I shot him once and then he was still alive saying, "I need help, I need help. Something hit me. It sounded—it felt like an electric shock."
Det. Delgadillo: Uh-huh. And then what did you do?
Wozniak: I reloaded and fired again.
Wozniak stole Sam's phone and credit cards, then left his body in the attic. Then, unbelievably, he performed his starring role in "Nine" that night. Kara Kessener was the stage manager.
"How did he seem?" Smith asked.
"He seemed just like any other day. He seemed fine," Kessener said. "He did a great job."
"I remember getting goose bumps and goin', 'Yeah, Daniel, nail it,'" said castmate Deborah Kennedy.
"It was that good?" Smith asked.
"Yeah," said Kennedy.
After the performance, by then about 10:30 p.m. on Friday, Wozniak and Buffett returned to their apartment. Then he turned to covering up his crime, texting Julie on Sam's phone pretending to be Sam:
Wozniak: I was saying, "You need to come over tonight, you need to come over tonight."
Julie, wearing the tiara she was to wear in her brother's wedding, went to Sam's around midnight. Wozniak appeared and unlocked the door. She followed him in.
Wozniak: And I said, "Oh, by the way, did you see this in Sam's bed?" And she said, "What?"
He led her into the bedroom.
Wozniak: I said, "***lean over look at it right there." When she was leaned over I put two bullets in the back of her head.
He then wrote "All Yours F— You" on the back of her sweater and cut her pants off.
"He wanted to set up Sam. He wanted to make Sam look like a rapist and a killer so the police would be looking for him," Murphy explained.
"Why?" Smith asked.
"Because the man has no heart, and he has no soul, and he loved the idea of how clever he was," Murphy replied.
His murderous plot didn't end there. The next morning, Saturday, he returned to the theatre where Sam lay dead and began the Devil's work of hacking his body apart — an act he tells the detectives he found funny:
Wozniak: I was actually smiling and laughing. …It reached a point to where I couldn't even believe that I was doing this.
"How tragic was this murder plot? A greedy groom. The pursuit of ill-gotten gain, dismembers a young man and discards him like a piece of garbage," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas addressed reporters.
The prosecution deemed the crime so heinous it warranted the death penalty. But Wozniak's defense team was not rolling over. In spite of his confession to police, Wozniak pleaded not guilty. Incredibly, it would take five-and-a-half years to go to trial.
"No victim's family should have to be put through that. None," said Steve Herr.
The families blame defense attorney Scott Sanders for filing numerous motions accusing prosecutors and the sheriff of misusing informants to elicit damning evidence against his clients, even though prosecutor Matt Murphy told the court he was not going to present evidence from any informant at Wozniak's trial.
While the families waited, Daniel Wozniak was making the most of his newfound celebrity, appearing on the show "Lockup."
Wozniak on "Lockup": I enjoy long walks on the beach, I'm an Aries (laughs].
"For five-and-a-half years, I have watched that man come into court wearing an orange jumpsuit, bounding in with a smile on his face like Tigger the tiger," said Murphy.
"What is up with that smile?" Smith asked.
"Daniel Wozniak's smile is a point of manipulation," he replied. "You know, he gets things that way."
"Do you feel like Sam and Julie have been forgotten in all of this?" Smith asked the Herrs.
"Yes," Raquel Herr replied.
"Unless we mention their names, for five years, for over 100 hearings, their names are not mentioned," Steve Herr said. "We've addressed the court a number of times. This case is about Samuel Herr and Julie Kibuishi. …You gotta put their names."
In December 2015, finally, their names would be spoken.
"Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi," Murphy addressed the court. "Daniel Wozniak murdered them both, and ladies and gentlemen, we are gonna get to a penalty phase."
Daniel Wozniak went on trial for the double murder of Julie Kibuishi and Sam Herr. If found guilty, a jury could sentence him to die — not good enough for this prosecutor.
"The death penalty is not enough for Daniel Wozniak on this," Murphy told Smith. "For justice to be done in this case, personally, I'd prefer proof of hell. I'd prefer proof that there's — that there's something that is waiting him after he dies."
Matt Murphy presented the evidence, painting a chilling portrait of a killer with no conscience.
"There are searches on Google, 'How to hide a body,' … "quick ways to kill people,'" Murphy told jurors. "And Sandals Resorts."
"This is a guy who's planning to murder two human beings so he can have an awesome honeymoon down in – in Mexico," Murphy continued.
Then there was the physical evidence. The gun he stole from his own father to kill his victims and that backpack jammed with evidence.
"Now, from a forensic, cold, sterile analysis of evidence, it doesn't get any better than that for a jury," Murphy said in his closing.
The prosecution put on 23 witnesses over four days, including Wesley Freilich — who was arrested but never charged — for his role in Daniel Wozniak's scheme.
"What was it like to see Daniel in court?" Smith asked Freilich.
"Disturbing," he replied. "He was smiling at me. …The man that murdered two people just sat there and just gave me this little just, like, this, like, acknowledged little smirk."
The defense declined to put on any witnesses. After a five-day trial, Daniel Wozniak's fate was in the hands of the jury.
Steve Herr knows that nothing can bring his son, Sam, back.
"He is gone. I want now, justice. I'll grieve for the rest of my life. But it doesn't run my life. The justice for it runs my life," he said.
After waiting five-and-a-half-years, it takes the jury just two hours to reach a unanimous decision.
Daniel Wozniak sat emotionless as a jury found him guilty of murdering Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. The verdict is a relief, but not enough for the Herr and Kibuishi families.
"What he did to Sam, and then — of course, what he did to Julie … It warrants the death penalty, the quicker, the better," said Steve Herr.
Just two weeks later, the same jurors were back in the same courtroom for what's called the penalty phase. They will have to determine whether Wozniak should be given life in prison or be sentenced to death.
Prosecutor Matt Murphy, who has tried seven other death penalty cases in his career, says his strategy is simple: "It is get the Kibuishis and Herrs on the witness stand so that the jury can understand their pain."
"Ladies and gentlemen, he knew that Sam and Julie were loved," Murphy addressed jurors. "Now you get to think about those people. You get to think about those moms and what they have gone through. And you get to assign a weight to that."
"And that's the beautiful thing about a penalty phase, because it's not his show anymore. It's Sam and Julie's show. And it's about the families now. It's not about him," Murphy told Smith.
Six people testify on behalf of Sam and Julie, but not one of Wozniak's family members ever showed up to support him.
"By all accounts and everything we did in the investigation, he has very nice parents," Murphy told Smith. "And that may be why they're not here. They are nice people and they gave him every possible advantage, which to a certain extent is one of the things that makes this case so heinous."
Wozniak's defense attorney, Scott Sanders, tries to shift blame to Rachel Buffett — Wozniak's former fiancée.
"You'll see very soon that she is the smarter of the two by far," Sanders told the court."
But remember, she's not been charged with committing or planning the murders — just as an accessory after the fact.
"Their strategy is to try to get as much attention away from Daniel Wozniak and what he did," Murphy explained.
"Pin it on Rachel as much as they can," said Smith.
"Yeah. They need a villain," said Murphy.
It takes a week before the case goes again to the jury. Matt Murphy recalls what he was feeling at that moment.
"Are you optimistic?" Smith asked.
"Oh, gosh. No. They call it PAPV psychosis," he explained, rubbing his eyes. "Post argument, pre-verdict psychosis."
"Every prosecutor turns into Woody Allen underneath their skin when a jury is out. Everybody is neurotic. Self doubting, self loathing," Murphy continued. "You're terrified that you did something to screw it up."
To everyone's surprise, the jury comes back quickly — in just a little over an hour:
Court clerk: We the jury and the above entitled action determine that the penalty to be imposed upon defendant Daniel Patrick Wozniak to be death.
"It's been a long five-and-a-half years. We kinda waited for this day," said June Kibuishi.
It wasn't over yet. Before the judge could formally sentence Wozniak, Sanders demanded more time to explore the informant issue and argue against the death penalty.
It would eight more months before the families finally got their chance to address the court and the man who murdered their children. Steve Herr stood surrounded by combat veterans who had served with Sam.
"You, Dan, are a coward and a poster boy for the need of the effective death penalty in California," Steve Herr told his son's killer. "My only regret? That this state won't let me kill this coward myself. Thank you."
Next it was Julie's mother's turn.
"You took her precious life and then you disgraced her," June Kibuishi addressed Wozniak. "Why? What did she do to you? How could you do anything like that to my baby?"
Judge Conley then turned to Daniel Wozniak and read his decision. "It is the order of this court that you shall suffer the death penalty."
Finally justice for Julie and Sam, but the families felt there was more to be done. It would take two years after Daniel Wozniak was sentenced to death for his former fiancé Rachel Buffet to face a judge and jury for lying to police.
"By Monday she knows her friend Julie Kibuishi was murdered," Prosecutor Matt Murphy said, "knows Sam is still missing, knows Wozniak has to be connected by this point. …She doesn't wanna say anything that's gonna hurt Daniel Wozniak."
Rachel Buffett is charged with accessory after the fact for trying to help her fiancée escape justice. Remember how Wozniak initially told police he saw Sam on the day of the murder drive off with a mysterious man in a black hat? Murphy points out Buffett told police the same lie and in her videotaped interrogation, the lies continued.
Detective: I do not believe you one bit, OK?
Buffett echoed Wozniak's lie about Sam having problems with his family. She claimed Sam mentioned it to her:
Detective: There's no way that he could've told you about his family.
Rachel Buffett: I thought he really did.
Detective: Because he does not have problems with his family.
But defense attorney Dave Medina argues Buffett is another victim of Daniel Wozniak.
"In order to believe the government's theory of this case," Medina said, "you have to believe that Rachel knew that Dan butchered two of her friends, you have to believe Rachel was OK with that."
But Matt Murphy gets the last word.
"All of this stuff goes on right under her nose, so she doesn't have to know he butchered two people and be OK with it. She just has to know he's involved and tell police things that are not true in an attempt to help him." Murphy told the court. "Now I count 19 separate lies in that interview, I'm asking you to convict on one of them."
On Sept. 12, 2018, after weeklong trial, the jury spent a day deliberating and reached its verdict.
Court clerk: "… we the jury in the above entitled action find Rachel Mae Buffett guilty …"
"The sweetest sound that I heard was the sound of the click of the handcuffs going around Rachel Buffett," said Steve Herr.
Almost eight-and-a-half years after the murders, the case of Daniel Wozniak and Rachel Buffett finally ends — but the feelings of loss only deepen.
"Steve what do you miss?" Smith asked.
"I miss my boy," Steve Herr said. "It's an honor to be a father. It's the best thing in the world."
The Herr and Kibuishi families will be forever linked … always remembering, never forgetting their beautiful children, Sam and Julie.
Rachel Buffett will be sentenced on November 8. She faces up to four years.