Murder case may drag on for months
A 4-year-old Costa Mesa murder case could be on hold for months longer now that the defense has lobbed allegations of misconduct including the misuse of jailhouse informants and asked for more time to make its case.
Orange County Superior Court Judge James Stotler said Friday that he expects he’ll have to push back a June trial date for Daniel Wozniak, 30, who is accused of killing two Orange Coast College students in 2010 and dismembering one of them in an attempt to hide the body. He said he carried out the killings to gain access to one of the victim’s bank accounts, according to Orange County Grand Jury transcripts released in 2012.
“This situation is beyond awful — it’s beyond awful, awful,” Stotler said of the delay. “It’s awful, awful, awful that we can not get this case to trial.”
Wozniak’s public defender, Scott Sanders, told Stotler that he needs more time to prepare a motion outlining a string of possible wrongdoings by prosecutors, law enforcement and producers of a TV show that interviewed his client in jail.
Sanders is also defending Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty last month to killing eight people three years ago at a Seal Beach hair salon in Orange County’s worst mass shooting.
Months before the guilty plea, that case’s focus shifted when Sanders filed a 505-page motion alleging an informant was intentionally put in a cell next to Dekraai and that prosecutors worked to hide information that the jailhouse snitch gathered.
The motion sparked a series of hearings about informants in Orange County jails and whether their use violated constitutional rights.
Related allegations have now spilled over after one informant testified that he spoke with Wozniak, who has been behind bars since 2010 and could face the death penalty.
But because of his work on the Dekraai hearings, Sanders said he has not had the time to prepare the motion needed to present evidence of similar alleged misconduct regarding Wozniak’s case.
Prosecutors insisted that the evidence doesn’t exist and slammed the assertion as nothing more than an effort to delay.
“These are dirty tactics,” said Matt Murphy, the deputy district attorney prosecuting Wozniak.
Murphy implied it was laziness, not a lack of time, that stopped Sanders from filing the needed motion.
“That’s what weekends are for,” Murphy said. “You make allegations like that and you pony up on the weekends.”
Sanders laughed and at one point called the deputy district attorney’s arguments embarrassing.
“If I could clone myself or find more hours in the day, I’d do it,” he said.
The attorneys’ jabs continued throughout most of Friday’s hearing before Stotler threatened to leave the bench until the two calmed down.
Sanders did not detail what allegations against the Orange County district attorney’s office or jail staff his motion would include, but it would center on the jailhouse informants he referred to in Dekraai’s case.
During hearings on the matter, prosecutors admitted they did not disclose to defense attorneys all the evidence gathered by informants, but Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner, who is prosecuting Dekraai, said in a declaration that the omission stemmed from a mistake interpreting case law about the use of informants and was not a plan designed to violate inmates’ 6th Amendment rights. The amendment says an accused person has the right to a speedy trial.
It’s unconstitutional for someone working with the government to deliberately coax statements out of defendants after they’ve been charged, according to court decisions.
Layered on top of that in the Wozniak case is an allegation that prosecutors or law enforcement may have tried to prejudice potential jurors by colluding with the MSNBC show “Lockup: Extended Stay Orange County Jail,” on which Wozniak appeared in 2011.
Sanders has subpoenaed information from the network, and a hearing on the matter is scheduled for next month.
Meanwhile, Sanders has attacked Murphy directly, saying the deputy district attorney made an implicit threat to prosecute him for perjury after he floated these allegations.
“That’s tinfoil-hat stuff,” Murphy shot back Friday.
Murphy asked Stotler to move the trial forward immediately because some witnesses and other parties in the case have serious health issues. Any further delay could hurt the prosecution for no good reason, he argued.
"[Sanders has] made allegations, and he’s produced absolutely no evidence,” Murphy said.
Stotler left a June 27 trial date for Wozniak on the calendar, but the judge said he expects Sanders will bring a motion to push it back.
The judge said that if Sanders does intend to request a delay, he would like a realistic timeline of when a motion containing the misconduct allegations would be finished.
Sanders said he would need at least 90 days after hearings about the Dekraai informants finish.
Stolter seemed dismayed when he estimated Wozniak’s trial may not start for six more months.
“At the very least we need to expedite this case,” he said.
— Times Staff Writer Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.