Rachel Buffett, who is accused of being an accessory after the fact for her former fiancé, convicted double murderer Daniel Wozniak, went on trial Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court.
Buffett, who was arrested in 2012, is charged with three felony counts of accessory after the fact or knowledge of a crime.
The families of Wozniak’s victims, Sam Herr, 26, and Juri “Julie” Kibuishi, 23, sat in Judge Sheila Hanson’s courtroom to hear opening statements from Matt Murphy, senior deputy district attorney, and David Medina, Buffett’s defense attorney.
Murphy described Wozniak as a “diabolical genius,” telling jurors to what lengths the community theater actor from Costa Mesa went when he needed money for rent and his upcoming wedding and honeymoon with Buffett.
Murphy alleged that Buffett lied, dodged questions and changed her story during interviews with detectives who told her they believed Wozniak was involved in the two killings.
But Medina painted Buffett as a victim who fell prey to Wozniak’s lies. He called Buffett a “star witness” who offered “boatloads” of incriminating evidence against Wozniak.
“Ask yourself, was she trying to get away with murder? Or assisting Costa Mesa police in convicting him?” Medina said.
During Murphy’s hours-long statement, he recounted Wozniak’s plan in detail. For jurors to hold Buffett accountable, Murphy said, they need to “understand details on murder to understand [her] role” and put “these puzzle pieces together.”
In May 2010, Murphy said, Wozniak plotted to kill Herr, his neighbor at the Camden Martinique apartment complex in Costa Mesa. He wanted to steal $62,000 that Herr had saved from serving in the Army in Afghanistan.
Wozniak’s Google searches showed pressure was starting to build as his wedding date with Buffett drew nearer, Murphy said.
His searches in May included “best all-inclusive sandals,” beach and theater destinations, “how to fake thumbprints,” “how loud shotgun” and “how to hide a body,” the prosecutor said.
After shooting Herr at a Los Alamitos theater, Wozniak used Herr’s phone to lure Kibuishi to Herr’s apartment, where Wozniak shot her twice in the head, Murphy told jurors.
Murphy showed transcripts of text messages in which Wozniak pretended to be Herr in order to lure Kibuishi.
Wozniak asked Kibuishi if they could go on a walk, just the two of them, Murphy said.
“Please no sex. I need to talk to someone. I’m really not doing well,” Wozniak texted Kibuishi.
She responded: “Lol ew Sam we are like bro and sis. No sex.”
After performing in a play, Wozniak dismembered Herr’s body so he could hide it at El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach. He staged the scene of Kibuishi’s slaying to appear as though Herr had raped her and fled, Murphy said.
Wozniak was arrested at his bachelor party days after the killings after ATM withdrawals from Herr’s bank account led police to him. Police said Wozniak confessed to both slayings after he called Buffett from jail.
In a recording of the call played for jurors at his trial, Wozniak learned police would soon discover a bag of evidence, including the murder weapon.