Murder victims’ families give anguished testimony as prosecutors seek death for Wozniak
Steve Herr said he never wants to forget the image of his son’s body, which was stitched together at a mortuary after being dismembered and dumped in a Long Beach park.
One of the hands was missing, Herr said, and the head was wrapped to hide the fact that it was only an unrecognizable skull.
“Animals got to my son’s body parts in El Dorado park,” Herr said Monday in an Orange County courtroom. “They found him. They ate his flesh off him.”
Herr testified that he clings to this mental picture of his son Sam Herr because he doesn’t want to forget the evil of the man convicted of killing him.
Daniel Wozniak, 31, a community theater actor from Costa Mesa, was found guilty last month of murdering Sam Herr, 26, and Herr’s 23-year-old friend Juri “Julie” Kibuishi in May 2010. The verdicts came after less than a week of testimony and a few hours of deliberations.
Now jurors are tasked with deciding Wozniak’s punishment: a death sentence or life in prison without parole.
On Monday, prosecutors began presenting their case for the death penalty.
As part of that, Steve Herr and Kibuishi’s family members took the stand to describe how the killings changed their lives.
“In my mind, I see him whacking away at my son’s head. I see him sawing my son’s arm off,” Herr said of Wozniak. “I have trouble sleeping at night because if I turn the TV off, that’s what I focus on.”
Prosecutors said Wozniak was desperate for cash to cover rent and his upcoming wedding, so he hatched a plan to kill Sam Herr and access the bank account where Herr had saved thousands of dollars from his Army service in Afghanistan.
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, prosecutor Matt Murphy told jurors during the trial last month.
After performing in a play, Wozniak returned to the theater, where he dismembered Herr’s body so he could hide the pieces at the El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach, according to prosecutors.
He then returned to Herr’s apartment, ripped off Kibuishi’s jeans and propped her body against the bed in the hope that police would assume Herr had raped her and fled, Murphy said.
Hours before her death, Kibuishi was eating Thai food with her older brother Taka, who described the evening to jurors Monday.
After dinner, he said, he asked her to be a bridesmaid in his wedding planned for the following year. He gave her a tiara to wear in the ceremony.
According to Taka Kibuishi, his sister left around midnight for Herr’s apartment, where she thought Herr had asked her to stop by because he needed someone to talk to. But the text messages she had been receiving were actually from Wozniak, Murphy said.
“What goes through my head is I had so many chances to try to stop her,” Taka Kibuishi said before lashing out at Wozniak, calling him a “disgusting monster” who used his sister as a decoy.
“And then you disrespect her by pulling her pants off,” he said before reining in the emotion in his voice.
Authorities said he confessed to both killings after he called his fiancée from jail.
In a recording of the call played for jurors, Wozniak learned that police would soon discover a bag of evidence, including the murder weapon.
Immediately after hanging up, he called for detectives, according to Murphy. A video of the interview shows Wozniak telling detectives that he killed Herr and Kibuishi for the money.
“We lost Julie and Sam for something so simple,” Taka Kibuishi said. “It’s pathetic. It’s disgusting.”