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Crime News Dateline

California Mother and Her 10-Month-Old Baby Are Found Strangled To Death

Danya Herroz found an "unforgettable" way to have her daughter and grandson's killer reminded of his brutal act for years to come.

By Jill Sederstrom
Roy and Dana Vienneau featured on Dateline Unforgettable Episode 307

Dayna Herroz suffered an unimaginable tragedy when her daughter and 10-month-old grandson were found strangled to death in their apartment.

How to Watch

Catch up on Dateline: Unforgettable on Peacock or the Oxygen App.

“We tell a lot of sad stories on Dateline and this one was harder to tell than most,” Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz said on Dateline: Unforgettable. “It easily could have destroyed Dayna Herroz, instead it transformed her into a fighter, someone who, to me, exemplifies courage. What she accomplished did not come easily.” 

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Who was Tori Vienneau?

Tori Vienneau was just 22 years old when her life and that of her young son Dean was cut brutally short. 

"Tori was the perfect daughter for me,” Herroz said. “She wasn’t perfect, but she was perfect for me and from the minute she was born, we were two peas in a pod.” 

Growing up, the mother and daughter had a close bond, even as Herroz struggled with an addiction to alcohol in Vienneau’s teenage years. 

It was Vienneau, just 16 at the time, who finally convinced her mother to seek help. 

“I love you but I hate you when you drink,” Herroz remembered her daughter telling her. “I will not watch you destroy your life and I found a place for you to interview for, a recovery home, and you get one shot and if you fail at this, I’m not coming back. I need my mom back.” 

The tough love worked and after a nearly year long stay in rehab, Herroz emerged sober and ready to embark on a healthier path.

A few years later, it was Vienneau who needed support, when she told her mother and stepfather Roy that she was pregnant. 

Her son Dean was born on September 26, 2005.

“He was something that we didn’t know we were missing, until he came and he was one big fat ball of love,” Herroz said.

Vienneau was just 21 years old at the time and living with her boyfriend Neil Springstube and her best friend Daniel Moen. The trio took turns taking care of Dean in those early months, alternating work shifts to make sure they could meet the baby’s needs.

“He was my little buddy and my little friend, most times he was my best friend. I mean, I watched him every day while everyone was at work,” Moen remembered. 

The Suspects

Tragedy struck on July 26, 2006 when Vienneau and Dean were both found brutally murdered in their San Diego apartment. Vienneau had been beaten and strangled to death. Dean was strangled and found in his crib.

Over the next few months, the men in Vienneau’s life — including Dennis Potts, a friend with benefits she’d had a sporadic sexual relationship with for years — would take center stage in the investigation. 

By then, Springstube and Vienneau had broken up after a DNA test revealed he was not the baby’s father. 

At the time of the murder, he was in Florida and quickly ruled out as a possible suspect. Moen was also no longer living with Vienneau, but he remained a constant fixture in her life, still helping her care for Dean each day. 

“He described them as best friends but he wanted more,” Lt. Kevin Rooney, who supervised the San Diego Police homicide unit told Mankiewicz. “I believe he loved her and he wanted a romantic relationship with her.” 

By all accounts, including Moen’s own statements, he had been much more interested in a romantic relationship than Vienneau. 

“I kind of had to accept her how she was,” Moen said.

On the night of the murder, Moen told police he had been at work. He reported receiving a strange string of text messages from Vienneau including one describing some “scary guy” standing outside her place. In another message, Moen said Vienneau wrote that Dean was “sleeping like a dead dog,” but it didn’t seem like a phrase she would ever say. 

She also told Moen that her plans with Potts had fallen through that night and asked him to come over. But Moen said it was strange because he never knew she had any plans with Potts. 

Although Moen was initially viewed as the “main suspect” because of his unrequited feelings for Vienneau, he was later ruled out after surveillance footage captured him at work that night. 

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Who killed Tori Vienneau?

That left Potts, Vienneau’s former high school boyfriend, as one of the main suspects. Although they had ended their dating relationship in high school, Vienneau and Potts continued an on-again, off-again sexual relationship for years. 

“They had what was described as a not exclusive relationship. For whatever reason, they were constantly drawn back to one another and did have a sexual relationship that existed,” Rooney said.

After learning that Springstube was not Dean’s father, Vienneau believed that Potts was his biological father. Potts agreed to take two mail-in paternity tests, but both came back negative. 

Vienneau was confused by the results and her mother began to suspect that Potts — who lived at his parents home with his fiance at the time — may be falsifying the results in some way. She encouraged Vienneau to take him to court where a court-ordered paternity test could be conducted. 

Before that could ever happen, however, Vienneau was killed. 

On the night of the murder, Potts claimed to be with his friend Max Corn all night, an assertion Corn himself backed up. 

But investigators began to suspect there was more to the story after a DNA test they conducted proved Potts had been the baby’s father. 

They also recovered text messages from Vienneau’s phone that indicated the young mom believed Potts was coming over to take her out for a fancy dinner the night she was killed. 

“ill(sic) see you at 5 are you bringing my surprise? What is it?”  she wrote in one text message earlier that day.

At 4:32 p.m. that afternoon, she texted, “Are you still coming.” Potts quickly replied, “duh. ill b there at 515. u home alone.”

“In retrospect it just seems so out of left field and inappropriate to care whether she’s alone at her apartment,” Rooney remarked.

Cell phone records also placed Potts near Vienneau’s apartment that night, but it was searches police found on his computer that broke the case wide open. 

In the weeks leading up to her death, Potts had googled phrases like “committing murder,” “how to cheat a swab paternity test,” “best way to kill someone,” “getting out of child support," and “performing a choke hold.”

Investigators believe Potts arrived that night, killed Vienneau and Dean, then sent those strange text messages to Moen from Vienneau’s phone.

Where is Dennis Potts now?

On Jan. 16, 2008, Potts was arrested and charged with murder. His friend, Max Corn, was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice for providing the false alibi. 

Potts was later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, while Corn received three years behind bars in a separate trial. 

Herroz found a unique way to ensure Potts will never be able to escape what he did. She asked the judge to order that a photo of Vienneau and Dean together in their casket be hung on the wall of Potts’ prison cell for the remainder of his life and the judge agreed. 

“That is truly unforgettable,” Mankiewicz said. “I’d never heard of a sentencing order like that and I haven’t since. The judge later said that of all the cruel and brutal crimes that he’s seen on his decades on the bench, Tori and Dean’s case topped the list.”

In the years after her daughter’s death, Herroz became a victim’s advocate and helped other grieving families, but her slain daughter and grandson are never far from her mind.

“I believe they're in heaven and I believe that God called them home and I think Dean came to take his mom home,” she said. “Our children are on loan to us, I just forgot that.”