Trial still pending for convicted killer Daniel Wozniak’s ex-fiancee, Rachel Buffett
SANTA ANA – More than a year after Daniel Wozniak was sentenced to death for killing two people in an attempt to fund his wedding and honeymoon in 2010, his ex-fiancee, Rachel Buffett, still awaits trial for allegedly lying to police after the murders.
In a case that made national headlines, Wozniak, a 33-year-old former community theater actor from Costa Mesa, was sentenced to death in September 2016 for killing his neighbor, Samuel Herr, 26, and Herr’s friend Juri “Julie” Kibuishi, 23, in a plot to steal money to fund his upcoming nuptials.
It took more than six years for Wozniak’s case to go to trail as his defense lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, raised allegations as part of Orange County’s informant jailhouse scandal.
Herr’s parents were angry and frustrated over the delays in Wozniak’s case, and now, they say, they’re frustrated that Buffett’s case is taking so long.
“I’m so tired of the delays,” Samuel’s father, Steve Herr, said in an interview this week. “Each time I’ve been told to be patient. How long can one be patient?”
Buffett was charged in 2012, two years after the killings, with three felony counts of being an accessory after the fact for allegedly lying to protect Wozniak. Her case initially was delayed pending the outcome of his trial, but now it’s caught up in a clogged county court system. She has been out of jail for years on bail.
In Orange County Superior Court on Friday, her case was delayed yet again as Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy is slammed with high-profile trials.
Speaking to the judge, Murphy, one of the county’s top prosecutors, explained that he’s set to try serial killer Andrew Urdiales this month, followed by Edward Shin, accused of killing his Laguna Beach business partner. Murphy’s then slated to prosecute alleged jail escapee Hossein Nayeri, who is accused of kidnapping a marijuana dispensary owner and severing the man’s penis.
However, Judge Kimberly Menninger expressed dismay that Buffett’s case has lingered.
“This case needs to be a priority,” the judge said.
“I’m doing the best that I can here,” Murphy replied. “The case is an absolute priority.”
In court, Murphy said he has been working to resolve the case in a possible plea deal, but Buffett’s defense lawyer, David Medina, said he and his client are prepared to go to trial.
Judge Menninger set a pretrial hearing date for March 16 and assigned the case to a trial judge.
Buffett, an actress and former Disneyland princess who grew up in Seal Beach, raised public interest with her appearances on “Dateline NBC” and “Dr. Phil,” where she has denied any connection to the crimes.
“I’m innocent, and … what hurts me most in this whole situation is they’re trying to say I’m something I’m not,” she said on “Dateline.”
Costa Mesa police have long said they believe she played a larger role in the crimes but they lack the evidence to prove it.
Among the allegations in her felony charges: She is accused of repeating a story that Wozniak had told police about a mystery man being with Samuel Herr on the day he was killed. Wozniak later told police that was a lie, prosecutors said.
With a hearing now set before a trial judge, Steve Herr said he’s hopeful that the case will move quicker.
Steve Herr, who was best friends with his son, a combat veteran who had served in Afghanistan, has attended hundreds of hearings over the years, 203 for Wozniak and 48 for Buffett. Steve Herr’s wife, Raquel, and Julie’s parents, June and Masa Kubuishi, are also fixtures in court.
“I’m just frustrated with the whole justice system,” Herr said. “Sam and Julie deserve a lot better than this.”
On May 21, 2010, Wozniak, in a plot to kill Herr and drain his bank account, lured him to the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, where he shot and killed him. Wozinak left the torso there but cut off body parts and tossed them in a Long Beach park.
To throw police off of his trail, Wozniak went to Herr’s apartment after that killing and used Herr’s cellphone to lure Kibuishi, pretending to be in need of help. He then shot and killed her and staged the crime scene to try and make it look like Herr had killed Kibuishi in a jealous rage. He wanted police to believe that Herr disappeared on his own.
Wozinak confessed to the crimes in police interviews.
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