Daniel Wozniak, right, sits in Superior Court with his attorney Scott Sanders before being sentenced. Photo / AP
Daniel Patrick Wozniak could have postponed his wedding.
He could have found a cheaper venue. He could have waited until he and Rachel Buffett, his fiancee, had enough money for a proper honeymoon. The community theatre actor, living in Los Alamitos, Calif., could have done a great many things to remedy the fact that he couldn’t afford the ceremony for his upcoming nuptials.
Instead, he chose to kill his neighbour Sam Herr, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, to steal Herr’s combat pay.
He chose to saw off Herr’s head, arm and hand, to make a positive identification of the body more difficult.
He chose to murder a young woman named Juri “Julie” Kibuishi, in hopes of throwing police off his trail by making it appear that Herr had raped and killed her.
It all began in 2010, a week before Wozniak was scheduled to marry Buffett.For these choices, 32-year-old Wozniak was sentenced to death on Friday in the Orange County Superior Court after a jury deliberated for just about an hour, the Associated Press reported.
The young actor had just landed the lead role in a local production of the musical “Nine,” as People noted, but it didn’t pay enough. He needed money, or he needed to downgrade or even postpone his wedding and his honeymoon.
“He wanted to do both with style and was willing to kill two young friends to accomplish this selfish goal,” Judge John Conley said at Friday’s sentencing, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Wozniak knew that his neighbor Sam Herr had at least $50,000 saved up, money he earned from fighting in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army.
He wanted that money.
So, before an evening showing of “Nine,” he asked Herr to help him move some furniture in a theatre attic at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base.
Herr was happy to lend a hand.
The friends entered the attic there together. As Herr knelt down to pick up a piece of furniture, the Los Angeles Times reported, Wozniak shot him in the back of the head. Herr didn’t die, though. Instead, presumably not understanding what was occurring, he asked Wozniak for help.
“Something hit me,” Herr said, according to Wozniak’s recorded police interview. “It felt like an electric shock.”
Wozniak reloaded his weapon and shot again.
After killing Herr, Wozniak performed in a staging of “Nine,” before returning to the attic.
Using an ax and a saw, he beheaded Herr’s corpse. He also cut off his hands and one of his arms, which displayed a tattoo.
In an attempt to keep police off his trail, Wozniak scattered Herr’s body parts in Long Beach’s El Dorado Park.
The plan failed, though – Herr had “Mom & Dad” tattooed across his chest, which police used to identify the body, the OC Register reported.
Wozniak stole the man’s ATM card, but decided to further attempt covering his tracks before withdrawing any money.
Using Herr’s cellphone, Wozniak lured 23-year-old Juri “Julie” Kibuishi, Herr’s friend, to Herr’s apartment.
When she arrived, Wozniak fatally shot her. Then, he arranged her body to make it appear as if she had been sexually assaulted. He also stole Herr’s passport, hoping police would assume Herr had sexually assaulted and killed Kibuishi before fleeing the country.
It almost worked.
A few days after the murders, Herr’s father Steve Herr began to grow concerned – it wasn’t like his son to not call. Steve visited Herr’s apartment in Costa Mesa and let himself inside.
There he found Kibuishi’s body bent over the bed. Her pants had been ripped and pulled down around her ankles. An expletive was written across her back, and a tiara rested on her head.
Police immediately considered Herr a suspect, though his father couldn’t believe it.
“Immediately I said, ‘Sam would never do this,'” Steve told the Los Angeles Times.
Within the week, Herr’s head was discovered in the park. That same week, police found a 16-year-old boy with Herr’s ATM card, which had been used to withdraw $400 at several different ATMs.
The boy told police that Wozniak had given him the card and ordered him to withdraw money for him, the OC Register reported.
Two days before Wozniak’s wedding, he was arrested at a sushi restaurant during his bachelor party.
In a police interview following the arrest, which was filmed and played during the trial, Wozniak confessed to the murders, claiming “it was all just about the money, 100 percent.”
“I killed Julie, and I killed Sam,” Wozniak said in a video interview played at his murder trial Tuesday, according to the OC Register.
Added Wozniak, “I’m sorry. The truth is I’ve been slowly going crazy and becoming a pathological liar, and I find it hard to tell the truth.”
At one point, as the video obtained by KABC showed, police asked Wozniak, “What was going on in your head as you were dismantling the body?”
He responded, “I was actually smiling and laughing.”
The families of both victims attended Friday’s sentencing.
“I have no forgiveness in my heart,” Sam Herr’s aunt, Miriam Nortman, told reporters.
“This will never heal and go away,” Kibuishi’s mother, June Kibuishi, said. “Julie will never come back to us. All our family can do is try to move forward one step at a time.”
Steve Herr offered a victim statement in which he directly addressed Wozniak.
“You, Dan, are a coward and a poster boy for the need for an effective death penalty in California,” Herr said, People reported. “My only regret that this state won’t let me kill this coward myself.”
Wozniak will be transferred to San Quentin State Prison, where he will await his execution.