This community theater actor's final performance was a chilling confession to double murder

Daniel Wozniak was convicted of killing a war veteran and a college student.

ByABC News
May 29, 2019, 6:05 AM

Daniel Wozniak was a community theater actor in Costa Mesa, California, when he was arrested for the gruesome murders of Sam Herr, a war veteran, and Julie Kibuishi, a college student and dancer, in May 2010.

Authorities say Wozniak was desperate for money and shot and killed Herr, his 26-year-old neighbor, in an attempt to steal the $62,000 Herr told him he had saved from his combat pay. At the time, police said Wozniak had no full-time job, no money, and was about to be evicted from his home. He was getting married, so he was in desperate need of money to help pay for his honeymoon.

PHOTO: Sam Herr was a 26-year-old Army war veteran.
Sam Herr was a 26-year-old Army war veteran.
Courtesy of Larry Gonzalez

To cover up Herr's murder, police say Wozniak then killed Herr's friend Julie Kibuishi, a 23-year-old student at Orange Coast College, inside Herr's apartment and tried to frame him for her death.

"Julie ... is basically being killed to cover this thing up. And it just -- I mean, it's horrific," Costa Mesa Police Lt. Ed Everett told ABC News' "20/20."

Watch the full story on "20/20" FRIDAY, May 31 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

PHOTO: Sam Herr's friend Julie Kibuishi was a 23-year-old dancer and college student at the Orange County School of the Arts.
Sam Herr's friend Julie Kibuishi was a 23-year-old dancer and college student at the Orange County School of the Arts.
Courtesy June Kibuishi

At the time of the murders, Wozniak was engaged to Rachel Buffett, a fellow community theater actress, and both were performing in a production of the musical "Nine." Wozniak even took the stage just hours after murdering Herr, authorities said.

On the night of Wozniak's bachelor party in May 2010, police arrested him and brought him in for questioning in connection with ATM withdrawals from Herr’s bank account. A 17-year-old boy in possession of Herr’s ATM card had pointed authorities to Wozniak. Herr was still the main suspect in Kibuishi’s death at the time and police didn't know yet that Herr was dead, too.

Police took Wozniak to an interrogation room, where they say he put on a performance worthy of one of his plays. Here's what happened:

PHOTO: Daniel Wozniak and Rachel Buffett performed in the musical "Nine" at the Liberty Theater on the night Sam Herr was killed.
Daniel Wozniak and Rachel Buffett performed in the musical "Nine" at the Liberty Theater on the night Sam Herr was killed.
Courtesy of Anthony Celeste

First: Wozniak claims to be running a credit card scam

VIDEO: California Theater Actor Interrogated By Police in Death of College Student
Daniel Wozniak admitted to police that he manipulated 16-year-old Wesley Freilich into using Sam Herr's ATM card.

At first, Wozniak admitted to police he had manipulated 17-year-old Wesley Freilich, who was found by police with Herr's ATM card, into making withdrawals for him from Herr's bank account.

"He asked if it was illegal. I said, ‘No, no, no, don’t worry,’" Wozniak said. "That was a lie."

Freilich was not charged. Wozniak also told police Herr showed up at his door one night to tell him he had killed Kibuishi in his apartment upstairs.

"I'm like, 'Hey man, what's going on? Is everything good?' [Herr’s] like, 'Not good ... I did something bad,'" Wozniak said. "I'm like, 'What did you do?' He's like, 'There's a dead body in my apartment. I shot somebody. I was not happy about it. It was a fit of rage.'"

Second: Wozniak then admits to seeing Julie Kibuishi's dead body

VIDEO: California Theater Actor Admits to Seeing Murdered Woman's Dead Body
During police interrogation, Daniel Wozniak said he saw Julie Kibuishi's dead body in Sam Herr's apartment.

As the interrogation continued, Wozniak told police he helped Herr escape, but claimed he had no hands-on role in Kibuishi’s murder. But then Wozniak changed his story when police asked him for a sample of his saliva for DNA testing.

Fearing his DNA could be found at the murder scene, Wozniak then told police he was in Herr's apartment after Kibuishi was killed and saw her body.

"I saw the goddamn body. Is that what you want to hear? ... I was right over the body," Wozniak told police. "I didn't touch her. I didn't do anything ... I saw two gunshots in her head."

When Wozniak admitted to seeing two gunshot wounds, Lt. Ed Everett was alarmed.

"Because when we were in the apartment, we all looked, and it was only one [gunshot wound] visible to our eyes, and then when he mentioned he saw two gunshot wounds, I said, 'Well, he was there when she was shot,'" Everett said. "He was there when she was killed."

During the autopsy of Kibuishi’s body, a second gunshot wound to the head was ultimately found.

"His story kept changing," Everett said. "I think he thought that his acting ability was going to carry him through this performance, so to speak. And it wasn’t doing it."

Third: Wozniak admits to killing not only Julie Kibuishi, but also Sam Herr

VIDEO: California Theater Actor Admits to Murdering Woman in Police Interrogation
In an interrogation room, Daniel Wozniak told police he first killed Sam Herr and then killed Julie Kibuishi.

After the initial interrogation, Wozniak was then sent to a jail cell. He called his fiancée from a jailhouse phone, where all calls are recorded. Buffett told Wozniak that she spoke with his brother, Tim Wozniak, earlier in the day, and that Tim confessed to being in possession of incriminating evidence, including the murder weapon -- Daniel had given the evidence to his brother before going to the police station.

On the recording of this phone call with Buffett, Wozniak begged her not to tell police about the evidence because then, he said, "I'm doomed." Buffett reminded Wozniak that the conversation was being recorded and that the jig was up, and that she was calling detectives as soon as she got off the phone with him.

"And that's when he decides to let the jailer know, 'Hey, I need to speak to the detectives,'" Costa Mesa Police Det. Jose Morales told "20/20."

After 14 hours at the police station, Wozniak admitted to killing not just Kibuishi, but also Herr, who had still been considered missing this whole time.

"I'm crazy and I did it," Wozniak told police. "I killed Julie, and I killed Sam."

Wozniak said he first killed Herr after luring him into the attic of a nearby theater under the guise of needing his help to move some supplies.

"I said, 'You need to bend down and help me lift this thing up.' And when he bent down, I grabbed the gun, and I shot him," Wozniak confessed to police.

Wozniak said Herr was still alive after the first shot and was still talking and asking for help.

"[He said], 'I need help. Something hit me. It felt like an electric shock,'" Wozniak told police. "I reloaded and fired again."

Wozniak said he later dismembered Herr's body and disposed of some of his body parts in El Dorado Park in Long Beach, California. He went on to say that he then killed Kibuishi, just two hours after an evening performance in the musical, “Nine.”

"Julie was wearing, like, a crown tiara. She had just come from her brother's, and I said, like, 'Sam just called me, and he was going through some stuff.' She said, 'Yeah, me too.' I said, 'Well I have a key. Let's go in,'" Wozniak told police. "And then [I] said, 'Oh, by the way, did you see this in Sam's bed? ... Lean over, look at it right there.' When she was leaned over, I put two bullets in the back of her head.'"

A jury found Wozniak guilty of two counts of first degree murder on Dec. 16, 2015. A California judge sentenced him to death at a September 2016 hearing and Wozniak was placed on death row. The parents of his victims were given the opportunity to confront him at the sentencing hearing.

"My only regret that this state won't let me kill this coward myself," Herr's father, Steve Herr said to him.

"You took my daughter's, beautiful, caring, loving daughter's precious life to cover up your heinous and planned crime. Did I ever see any remorse? No. Not even once," added Kibuishi's mother, June Kibuishi.

However, this year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom instituted a moratorium on the death penalty in his state, meaning the more than 700 inmates who are on death row, including Wozniak, are not facing execution at this point. This greatly upset Herr’s father, who spoke at a press conference opposing the moratorium this past March.

"He [the governor] has re-opened all wounds, and he created new ones as well, all for his feelings. That's not right, that's not justice," Steve Herr said. "You want anger? You want resentment? You got it."

A separate jury found Rachel Buffett guilty in November 2018 of being an accessory after the fact in connection to her being accused of lying to investigators to help protect Wozniak, her then-fiancé. She was sentenced to 32 months in jail.

PHOTO: Daniel Wozniak was found guilty of the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.
Daniel Wozniak was found guilty of the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.
Handout from Costa Mesa Police Department