Death penalty sought in double-killing case

Daily Pilot

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Daniel Wozniak, the Costa Mesa man accused of killing and beheading his neighbor then killing a friend of the neighbor to cover up the first crime, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas announced Thursday.

The Wozniak case marks the first this year in which the county's top prosecutor and his team are seeking the death penalty. It is the second murder case in Costa Mesa in 2010.

"Some murders are committed with such a depraved heart and in such a callous manner that the only punishment that fits the crime is the death penalty," Rackauckas said at a news conference in Santa Ana.

On Thursday morning, Rackauckas and his office's Special Circumstances Committee decided that the details behind the slaying of Samuel Herr, 26, and Juri "Julie" Kibuishi, 23 — both Orange Coast College students — warranted death for their suspected killer.

Wozniak, 26, is charged with killing Herr for money, then killing Kibuishi in Herr's apartment and staging it like a sexual assault so investigators would think that Herr did it and was on the run.

Herr lived three floors above Wozniak in the Camden Martinique apartment complex in Costa Mesa.

The special circumstances of allegedly killing for money and using a gun made Wozniak eligible for the death penalty.

"This was not a close call. Parents are not meant to bury their children, especially when the victim's future is snuffed out by callous brutality," Rackauckas said. "We will bring Daniel Wozniak to justice for these senseless murders."

Herr's parents had a memorial service for their son Thursday. Herr was an army veteran who returned from overseas duty last year and was attending Orange Coast College on the G.I. Bill.

The methodical way that Wozniak killed Herr and Kibuishi, while keeping up appearances with everyone around him, made the case even more chilling, police said.

Wozniak, an actor who was broke and about to be evicted from his apartment and had no steady job, killed Herr on May 21 and took his ATM card, wallet and cell phone, authorities claim. He told Herr in the afternoon that he needed help moving equipment in a theater at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, where Wozniak had acted months before, police said. Officials at the base said the area is typically quiet when military exercises are not going on there.

Wozniak shot Herr among the rafters and air conditioning equipment of the theater's attic where people rarely go, officials said. He then left to go about his day, even acting in a local production of the musical "Nine" in Fullerton later that night, prosecutors claim.

"He's an actor and I think he considers himself the star and everyone else is a prop in this play that he can move around and snuff out," Rackauckas said. "This [case] gives meaning to the term 'malignant heart.'"

Later that night, prosecutors said Wozniak began text messaging Kibuishi, his and Herr's mutual friend. Pretending to be Herr and using his phone, Wozniak text messaged Kibuishi and said he was having family problems and needed a shoulder to cry on, and asked if she'd come to Herr's apartment, said Taka Kibuishi, Julie's older brother.

When she got to Herr's apartment, police said Wozniak was waiting and lured her into the bedroom where he shot her twice in the head and staged it as a sexual assault.

"It's horrible to think anyone can derive this kind of plan and take innocent victims," Taka Kibuishi said. "We agree with [prosecutors'] decision."

"We just can't believe she's gone. She just did what she always does for friends," said Julie's mother, Junko Kibuishi. She was wearing a ring Julie always wore on a necklace around her neck.

It was about 12:30 a.m. on May 22 when Kibuishi was killed and, for a while, police could not find Herr and considered him the prime suspect. Police said Wozniak used the same handgun in both killings.

The same day Kibuishi was killed, officials said Wozniak returned to the Los Alamitos theater. Kibuishi's body was found that night by Herr's father who came to the Costa Mesa apartment, looking for his son.

Authorities said Wozniak used an ax or hatchet to chop up Herr's body. He cut off Herr's head, right hand, left arm and left hand and stuffed them into a backpack and headed to El Dorado Park in Long Beach, according to police. Herr's torso and legs were left in the theater attic where police eventually found them.

Wozniak haphazardly tossed Herr's remains about the nature-side of the park, police said. Detectives found Herr's right hand 200 yards from the main entrance to the park and his left arm about a half mile away just off a dirt trail. His head was found a short distance from that. Wild animals had moved and scavenged most of the remains, prosecutors said. Police never found Herr's left hand.

That night Wozniak played the lead role in "Nine," keeping up appearances once again, prosecutors said. He was scheduled to be married May 28, less than a week after the killings.

Police speculated that Wozniak chose El Dorado Park because he was familiar with it. He grew up less than a mile away and moved out of his parents house only about six months ago.

Officers traced the killings back to him through to a 17-year-old boy from his Long Beach neighborhood. Wozniak had given the boy Herr's ATM card on the weekend of the killing and asked him to empty Herr's accounts, promising him money in return, officials said. The boy visited four ATMs in Long Beach in the days after.

Police began staking out the ATMs and when they were notified by Herr's bank that his account had been accessed, detectives arrested the boy they spotted at the machine. Detectives had expected to see Herr using his ATM card, not the boy, police said. The boy did not know Herr was dead or that he was involved in anything illegal, authorities said.

Wozniak was arrested May 26 at his bachelor's party dinner in Huntington Beach. He was charged with the two murders on his wedding day. Attempts to reach his fiance and father were unsuccessful. Wozniak is scheduled to be arraigned June 25 in Santa Ana's Men's Central Jail.

"If we just ask why [this happened] every day, that'll tear us all apart," Taka Kibuishi said. "All the anger in the world isn't going to bring [Julie] back. We just want justice to be served."

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