A former Disney princess whose fiancé is on death row for a brutal double murder was convicted Wednesday of lying to help protect him, according to prosecutors.
Rachel Buffett, 31, was found guilty of two counts of being an accessory after the fact for helping her beau Daniel Wozniak cover up his involvement in the 2010 murders of neighbors Samuel Herr and Juri “Julie” Kibuishi.
Buffett, who had been out on bail, was immediately taken into custody pending a sentencing hearing in October, at which she faces up to three and a half years behind bars, prosecutors said.
Wozniak was convicted in 2016 of killing Herr and disposing of his body in an attempt to frame him for the murder of Kibuishi, all part of a convoluted plot to steal military benefits and back pay from Herr, who was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, the Orange County Register reports.
At trial, prosecutors acknowledged that Buffett may not have known about the plan beforehand, but accused her of intentionally lying to cover for him after investigators began to suspect he was the culprit, according to the Register.
“Everybody knows (Wozniak) is a liar, everybody knows he is a horrific murderer,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy said during closing arguments, according to the Register. “The question is, how much was she in the dark?”
At Wozniak’s trial, prosecutors laid out a complex plan he hatched in an effort to stave off eviction and bankroll his marriage to Buffett, according to the Register.
Wozniak’s plan began when he learned that Herr, who lived in the unit above Wozniak and Buffett’s Costa Mesa apartment, had saved up $60,000 in combat pay while fighting in Afghanistan, according to the Register. Facing a possible eviction from the couple’s home and unable to pay for their upcoming wedding, Wozniak set about to make Herr disappear and frame him for the murder of Kibuishi, the newspaper reports.
Wozniak lured Herr, 26, to a theater on a training base at Los Alamitos, where he fatally shot the man and dismembered him, cutting off his head, hand, and forearm, and disposed of the remains in a park in Long Beach, the Register reports.
Next, Posing as Herr using his victim’s stolen cell phone, he lured Kibuishi, 23, to Herr’s apartment where he fatally shot her and set the scene to make it appear as if Herr had shot Kibuishi in a jealous rage, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Despite his attempt at being a criminal mastermind — which prosecutors said included internet searches such as “how loud shotgun,” “how to hide a body,” and “how to fake thumbprints,” detectives in Costa Mesa quickly unravelled the plot after busting a teenager who Wozniak is accused of hiring to make withdrawals from Herr’s bank account, and the accomplice flipped on Wozniak almost immediately, the LA Times reports.
As investigators began to zero in on Wozniak, Buffett did her best to deflect suspicion from him, prosecutors said, demanding that the two get their stories straight and lying about the presence of a “mystery friend” of Herr’s who she said had been staying at the victim’s apartment, the Register reports. Prosecutors estimated that Buffett lied to cops at least 19 times in just one interview.
The case drew national attention, and Buffett appeared on television numerous times to proclaim her innocence, but did not take the stand during her own trial, according to the Register.