Call on death penalty to wait

Daily Pilot

Prosecutors won't decide until after a preliminary hearing whether they should seek the death penalty against a Costa Mesa actor accused of killing two Orange Coast College students, officials said Wednesday.

Daniel Wozniak, 26, is charged with two counts of murder with sentencing enhancements for allegedly killing his Army veteran neighbor for money, beheading him and dismembering his body and then fatally shooting a friend of the victim hours later in hopes of throwing police off his tracks.

The district attorney's office typically decides whether to seek the death penalty through a panel made up of Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, a senior member of the office's homicide unit, and a senior member of its violent crimes unit, said his chief of staff, Susan Schroeder.

In this case, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Matt Murphy would present the aggravating factors of the crimes that would point toward the death penalty, such as the heinousness of the crime and its effect on the victims' families, Schroeder said.

He would also present the mitigating factors, such as circumstances around the crime, the defendant's character and past criminal history.

Wozniak's defense attorney would also be allowed to present his case to the panel, Schroeder said.

Four people were sentenced to death in Orange County last year. An Orange County jury voted Tuesday in favor of giving a defendant in a Buena Park murder the death penalty. Seven death penalty cases are moving through the county courts, officials said.

Police said that Wozniak lured Samuel Herr, 26, to a theater on the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, where he killed him and stole his ATM card May 21.

Herr had returned last summer from overseas duty in Germany and Afghanistan, and was attending OCC on the G.I. Bill. He had accumulated a significant amount of money while in the Army, his father said.

Wozniak lived three stories below Herr in the Camden Martinique apartments, a complex across the street from OCC.

After killing Herr, decapitating and dismembering his body, then leaving some of the remains in the military base's theater and dumping the rest in a park in Long Beach, Wozniak tricked Juri "Julie" Kibuishi into stopping by Herr's apartment later that night, according to prosecutors.

Wozniak posed as Herr by using the victim's cell phone to text message Kibuishi, police said.

He told her that he had family problems he wanted to talk about and asked if she could come over, said Kibuishi's older brother, Takahiro Kibuishi.

When Kibuishi arrived, Wozniak allegedly shot her in the head, police have said.

Afterward, Wozniak got a 17-year-old boy to use Herr's ATM card to make about $2,000 in withdrawals, authorities said. Police found the boy and detained him.

He named Wozniak and has since been released without charges, officials said.

Wozniak was later arrested at a Huntington Beach restaurant where he was attending his bachelor party.

He was to marry his costar in a community theater production of "Nine" in Fullerton.

Because Wozniak is charged with murder with special enhancements of committing the crime for financial gain, he is eligible for the death penalty.

Typically, the district attorney's office considers whether to seek the death penalty after a defendant's preliminary hearing, which is where prosecutors present their evidence to a judge to show they have enough to take the case to trial.

Wozniak has yet to be arraigned, where he would enter a guilty or not guilty plea. A preliminary hearing is likely months away, officials said.

Wozniak is scheduled to be arraigned June 25.

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