Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, June 9, 2010


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‘Control Issues’ Support Denial of Parole to Wife-Killer—C.A.




A septuagenarian inmate with a spotless prison record but a history of abusive relationships is not entitled to be released on parole, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

In a 2-1 decision, Div. Three ruled that the Board of Prison Terms had sufficient evidence before it to conclude that releasing Robert Shippman, now 72, from prison would place the public at unreasonable risk.

Shipmann, who owned a plumbing company and a gas station and had no prior criminal record, shot and killed his third wife in April 1993. He admitted to authorities that he committed the crime with his hunting rifle after his wife, who was involved in two extramarital affairs during their two-year marriage, got out of his truck and went to call her lover.

He pled guilty in Napa Superior Court to second degree murder with a firearm, was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison and became eligible for parole in 2005. After a September 2004 hearing, however, the board found him unsuitable and required him to wait four years for a second hearing.

Questioned by Commissioners

At that hearing, he was questioned by the commissioners about, among other things, the murder; his social history, including his three failed marriages; his accomplishments during incarceration; and his future plans. In addition, a prosecutor questioned him regarding “control issues” he experienced in his relationships with his wives.

Shippman denied that he was violent or abusive, but admitted that when his first wife became pregnant by a man he considered his best friend, he attacked the man with a baseball bat and put him in the hospital. He also acknowledged a violent episode during his second marriage, a result of the couple disagreeing as to how to handle their son’s drug abuse.

He also acknowledged that he had an affair during his second marriage, with the woman who later became his third wife

In denying parole for the second time, the board acknowledged Shippman’s prison record and efforts at rehabilitation, including his teaching of plumbing and other skills to inmates and his involvement in self-help groups, but cited the aggravated nature of the crime, his lack of insight into what caused it, his unstable social history and his “marginal” parole plans.

He filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the Napa Superior Court, which Judge Stephen Kroyer denied.

Relevant Factors

Justice Martin Jenkins, in the lead opinion for Div. Three, said that while the circumstances of the killing alone might not justify denying parole, the board considered all relevant factors and had shown a nexus between the evidence before it and the belief that the inmate was an unreasonable parole risk.

Shippman, he said, acknowledged difficulties in his relationships with women and could not explain what caused them, other than to acknowledge difficulties with his father growing up. Killing his wife, he said, was a “terrible, terrible” thing caused by jealousy that he could not control, Jenkins noted.

“We acknowledge much of his testimony appears quite reflective and forthcoming with respect to these problems,” the justice wrote. “However, in determining whether ‘some evidence’ supports the Board’s contrary decision, we must consider not only self-selected portions of petitioner’s testimony, but the record as a whole.”

While Shippman denied abusing his wives, Jenkins said, the board was not required to take those denials at face value, given his admission he attacked his first wife’s lover, his inability to explain rationally his third wife’s desire to get out of their marriage—which they argued about right before he shot her—and his unwillingness or inability to explain why the victim took out a restraining order weeks before the murder.

Nor, he added, was the board required to accept recent positive psychological evaluations given “petitioner’s failure to ‘open up’ to the clinicians regarding the true nature and extent of his controlling behavior.”

Justice Peter Siggins, writing separately, agreed with Jenkins completely, but said there were additional reasons to support the denial of parole.

‘Inference of Abduction’

After Juli Shippman was killed, Siggins noted, her car was found in front of her husband’s house with her purse inside and the engine running, suggesting that he forced her to get in his car, and so the killing may have been premeditated and not spontaneous as he claimed. “[T]he unaddressed inference of abduction is too pregnant for me to ignore,” he wrote.

That inference, while unproven, taken together with Shippman’s “dissembling responses to the Board’s questions concerning his propensity to control his romantic partners and his history of violence,” provide additional support for the board’s decision, Siggins wrote.

Justice Stuart Pollak dissented, arguing that his colleagues had overstated the strength of the evidence, both with respect to the circumstances of the crime and the possibility Shippman might engage in abusive relationships if released.

The dissenting justice wrote:

“No evidence has been cited...that Shippman intended to torture Juli, relished her suffering, or attempted to injure multiple victims or did anything that makes this murder particularly egregious. As many courts have observed, all second degree murders involve some level of callousness and indifference to the suffering of others....There is nothing in this record to suggest that this second-degree murder was so callous as to indicate that Shippman is likely to commit another such offense if granted parole.”

 As for Shippman’s supposed lack of insight, Pollak argued, the case differed from others in which the courts had upheld parole denial on that basis.

“...[T]he Board pointed to nothing that contradicts the psychologists’ conclusion that while in prison Shippman has developed a radically different and positive perspective on life, that he is genuinely remorseful for the crime he committed and for which he accepts responsibility, that he has acquired an understanding of anger management principles, and that he has no further need for additional anger management programming,” Pollak wrote. “The Board’s apparent view that Shippman’s understanding of the psychological mechanisms that triggered his need for control over his wives is superficial neither finds support in the record nor tends to show that he is likely to reoffend.”

Shipmann’s inability to offer the board an acceptable explanation for his past domestic difficulties, Pollak opined, suggests a lack of education, not insight.

The case is In re Shippman, A125182.


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