No need to show motive: Cierzan held to answer on suspicion of murder

A member of the LASD Crime Lab enters the home of missing man Will Cierzan on Feb. 13, 2020. Signal photo, Bobby Block.

A San Fernando Superior Court judge ordered Thursday that Daniel Cierzan be held to answer on one count of murder, finding there was “quite strong” evidence Saugus resident Will Cierzan was killed by his nephew on Jan. 26, 2017.  

Although counsel and the judge all agreed that something nefarious happened to Will Cierzan over four years ago, Judge David Walgren said after hearing from all six witnesses and examining the evidence that it was not only “abundantly clear to him” that Will Cierzan was dead but also that the blood, DNA, video and testimony evidence all pointed to Daniel Cierzan as being responsible for his uncle’s death. 

The audio recording of Charles Cierzan — who is Will’s brother and Daniel’s father — telling detectives in February 2020 that he had lied to cover for his son back on Jan. 28, 2017, was also heavily factored into the court’s decision, Walgren said.    

“Only two people have been proven to have lied about this: the defendant and his father,” said Walgren. “For the purposes of a preliminary hearing, I think the evidence is quite strong that Daniel did, in fact, murder his (uncle) in that computer room on Jan. 26.” 

Walgren ordered that Daniel be held to answer and return to the court July 22 for an arraignment. During an arraignment, defendants are read the charges against them — Cierzan has been charged with one count of murder — and are then asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If a not-guilty plea is entered, the jury trial selection and hearing process begins.  

Closing arguments — prosecution 

In her closing arguments of the preliminary hearing, Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef acknowledged the state had not given a reasonable answer to the question of Cierzan’s alleged motive, but she also challenged the idea that they needed to on the basis of all the other evidence presented.  

“There is ample evidence to show that this defendant is guilty for the murder of his uncle,” said Mokayef on Thursday, later adding, “Motive would be nice if you had it, but if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. Some people just do what they do out of evil.” 

Mokayef laid out the evidence investigators had been working on gathering for the last four years, saying they had compiled video from a variety of sources, including from a Bank of America, 7-Eleven and residential security cameras, showing Cierzan at the home of Will Cierzan for a large portion of the day. This evidence, Mokayef argued, directly conflicted with the defendant’s alibi.  

She also reminded the court that her blood expert had testified that a blunt force trauma of some form had occurred inside Will’s home Jan. 26, and that the prosecution’s criminalist had confirmed the stains in the home and Daniel’s Toyota 4Runner were blood stains matching the DNA profiles of Will, Daniel and/or Charles.    

The state’s witnesses had also discussed at length the belief that the Toyota 4Runner seen in the video was used to transport Will’s body to an unknown location, and both the vehicle and alleged crime scene at the home had been thoroughly cleaned.  

Mokayef said the cell phone records and testimony from Will’s wife showed that the victim would not have left without telling his wife, and that the audio tape played by Detective Ralph Hernandez, of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau, shows the alibi provided by Daniel’s father but retracted three years later demonstrates that Daniel Cierzan had lied to investigators about his whereabouts for the day Will was reported missing.  

Closing Arguments — Defense 

Before the decision was read, Cierzan’s attorney continued to argue his point that there was a lack of motive, body, murder weapon and witnesses that could directly tie his client to his uncle’s disappearance.  

“So, even if there is circumstantial inferences that the defendant is involved in the disappearance, and even if there’s circumstantial inferences that potentially the victim is dead, I don’t see a murder charge,” said Cierzan’s attorney Andrew Flier.  

 Cierzan’s counsel asked the charge to be capped at a second-degree murder charge, or even manslaughter, as the state, the defendant’s legal team argued, had not proven any indications of premeditation or deliberation by Daniel Cierzan. 

After the reading of Walgren’s order, Flier said the prosecutors’ use of the word “evil” was “preposterous” and that he was not surprised when the judge told his client he’d be held to answer.  

Flier said the state used a blood expert during the hearing who had not been at the scene of the crime and who had made his assumption from the stand that the house was the scene of the murder because that’s where the nephew and uncle were last known to be together. In previous cross-examination, Flier also asked why the state had moved on to Daniel as the suspect when there remained multiple DNA samples matching an “unknown” DNA profile found in the 4Runner.  

When asked about the retraction by Charles Cierzan, Flier asserted that the statements made by the father in 2017 versus 2020 should not really matter as he was mistaken already once before. 

Flier concluded his strategy moving into the next stage of the trial would be simple: to get the truth out.  

“I think they have proved that William is deceased … but I don’t think that’s the issue,” said Flier. “The issue, whether they had a body or not, is: What the hell happened in that room?” 

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