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Head is found, name cleared

Parents of slain OCC student felt early on that their only son, a veteran, didn't shoot his classmate. They were right.

May 30, 2010|By Joseph Serna

Days after finding Samuel Herr's left arm and right hand, Costa Mesa detectives returned to a Long Beach park Saturday and found the Army veteran's severed head.

The gruesome discoveries were part of a dramatic turn in local police's investigation into the fatal shooting of an Orange Coast College student. But for Herr's father, they were also a source of some relief: The veteran was briefly the primary suspect in the slaying of Irvine woman Juri "Julie" Kibuishi, 23.

"We're devastated, of course. But talking about it is cathartic," Stephen Herr said Saturday. "The vindication, the exoneration of our son was so important."

Samuel Herr, an OCC student, hoped to reenlist in the military to become an officer, his father said.

He was his parents' only child.

"He loved the Army," Stephen Herr said. "He loved the camaraderie."

Samuel Herr, 26, was slain and dismembered May 21 in a gory scheme to plunder his thriving bank account, prosecutors claim.

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Authorities believe Daniel Wozniak, a stage actor who lived three stories below Herr, killed Samuel Herr for money.

Herr returned from an 18-month tour in Afghanistan and Germany last year. His bank account was growing with the money he accrued, and he was attending OCC on the G.I. Bill.

Just hours after killing Herr, authorities say, Wozniak text messaged Kibuishi to lure her to Herr's home. Wozniak and Herr were neighbors at the Camden Martinique apartments, just down the street from OCC. Wozniak and Kibuishi are listed as friends on his Facebook profile.

Once Kibuishi arrived, Wozniak shot her in the head and left her partially disrobed body in a bedroom to make the incident look like a sexual assault, officials said.

Stephen Herr found Kibuishi's body May 22 while searching his son's apartment. When police soon named Samuel Herr as the primary suspect in her slaying, friends and family were in disbelief.

"I knew he was set up," Stephen Herr said. "His buddies, they all saw clues that this isn't Sammy. They wondered, 'How come Sammy isn't calling people?' Sammy hated texting."

Wozniak later asked a 17-year-old boy to use Herr's ATM card to withdraw $2,000 from his account, Stephen Herr said. Police said they were able to track down the boy, who named Wozniak.

Wozniak, 26, was arrested Wednesday at a Huntington Beach restaurant. Police also arrested Wozniak's brother Timothy and Noah Buffett, 28, as alleged accessories after the fact.

Police said Daniel Wozniak later confessed to the killings and told police where Herr's remains lay, Stephen Herr said.

Herr's head was found at El Dorado Park in Long Beach. The rest of his body was hidden in the attic of a theater at Los Alamitos' military training base, authorities said.

"He's an evil [expletive]," Stephen Herr said.

Wozniak tried to commit suicide while in jail Thursday and was hospitalized, according to police. He has since been released from Santa Ana's Western Medical Center and is back in jail, officials said.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Wozniak planned to get married Friday in Long Beach, owed several people money and was about to be evicted from his apartment.

Wozniak, who is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday, faces two counts of murder with enhancements for allegedly committing the crimes for financial gain.

If convicted, he faces life without parole. Prosecutors have not decided whether they'll seek the death penalty.

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