Bobby Shawn Janoe, a member of Blessed Sacrament Church, was arrested on January 2, 1992 for the murder of his wife of six weeks. His wife Joy left home the evening of December 31, 1991 and did not return. Her body was found the following morning in an alley in Westminster, California. Bob has steadfastly maintained that he is innocent.
Bob was prosecuted twice by a deputy prosecutor of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. His first trial resulted in a hung jury, so he was tried a second time, where he was convicted. The Orange County Register reported on January 15, 1994 that the trial “turned on scientific and circumstantial evidence” and that “the guilty verdict was reached without a clear-cut motive established.” Bob was able to show later that some, at least, of the “scientific evidence” was the first work of an inexperienced lab worker whose conclusions were refuted by later tests.
During the trial, Bob’s defense attorney presented character witnesses in an attempt to convince the jury that Bob was non-violent. The Register account reported that, “on the final day [of the trial], Janoe’s first wife testified that he had beaten her many times….” On the strength of that testimony, the prosecutor said, “We proved he was a violent man whose temper reached the extreme.”
Not true. During Bob’s first trial, I met a young woman who had come down from Idaho at her own expense to testify on Bob’s behalf. She told him that of all the men she had dated, she felt safest with Bob. A few years after his conviction, acting on his own defense and working from prison, Bob was able to prove that his first wife had lied on the stand. In a declaration to the court dated March 24, 2002, this woman recanted her previous testimony and declared, “In my testimony I lied… Bobby did not threaten to kill me at any time I knew him … I was never physically assaulted by Bobby.” Bob was also able to prove that the prosecutor knew at the time of the trial that the testimony the woman was giving was untrue.
If the prosecutor was so certain of Bob Janoe’s guilt, why did he need perjury to clinch the case against him?
The Los Angeles Daily Journal is a newspaper for lawyers. In an article on this particular prosecutor dated June 16, 1998, the Journal quoted another (unnamed) prosecutor who described him as one whose “goal is to destroy the defendant on the witness stand and take along any other witnesses he can as casualties of war”—tactics which have prompted some attorneys to criticize him as “unethical” and “mean-spirited”. Another lawyer, who did not want to be named, said, “My biggest problem with [this prosecutor] in every case I’ve seen him try … is that he tries to smear the defense lawyer, the defense investigator, and anyone associated with the defense team as liars and cheats, irrespective of their honesty and integrity.” Still another defense lawyer said, “He has a win-at-all-costs type of attitude…and that is not always a healthy thing.” In another Register article, dated April 28, 1998, this particular prosecutor was quoted as saying, “Yeah, I’m competitive. I don’t like to lose.” The last time I checked (which was years ago), this prosecutor had a perfect record of convictions, having successfully prosecuted 57 defendants and never losing a case. The fact that Bob’s first trial resulted in a hung jury is significant.
One of this prosecutor’s peers—one of apparently many who don’t want their names used—told me personally that this prosecutor is known for using perjured evidence to gain a victory. A contact in the Public Defender’s Office told me that attorneys and police officers are immune from prosecution when they lie on the stand or when they cause others to do so. (This has been confirmed to me more than once, but I still find it unbelievable.) Once Bob had proven that his first wife had lied on the stand and that the prosecutor was aware of it at the time, he sued his prosecutor. The prosecutor’s defense was that he had only done so in the course of his job and Bob’s suit was dismissed.
Is victory more important than justice?
Bob turns 52 today, November 1, 2010. He has spent almost the last nineteen years of his life in custody. During this time he self-studied law in order to act as his own attorney. In that capacity he has proven in court that his first wife committed perjury in his trial. In another victory, nearly ten years ago Bob was able to prove in court that the judge who presided at the trial in which he was convicted was guilty of bias. Bob began work to have all decisions made by this biased judge set aside in order either to gain a new trial or his release. Nearly ten years later, no action has been taken on this matter.
Thanks to a grant from Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, Blessed Sacrament was able to hire a private investigator to work on Bob’s case. This individual spent several months researching the records, investigating the crime scene, and interviewing various individuals. He discovered that exculpatory evidence had been suppressed, and that some of the evidence that had been introduced during the trials had been destroyed. He also learned that Bob’s wife’s body had been found about fifty feet from where a certain individual she had known before was living in his car. This individual had a motive for silencing Joy, and had even previously been found guilty of violently attacking another person by the same method that caused Joy’s death. This information was not introduced during Bob’s trials.
In his most recent letter to me, Bob wrote, “I am trying to understand, psychologically, what mechanisms are involved when the deputy prosecutor in my trial knowingly introduced the perjured testimony. Was it just a matter of winning? … Moreover, what mechanisms were involved as that same deputy prosecutor suppressed exculpatory evidence that he had an ethical duty to turn over to the defense? … As an example, in the beginning of a case, as the police detectives present their theory to the assigned deputy prosecutor, that deputy prosecutor will formulate his own theory as to how he feels the alleged incident occurred; consequently, from that point forward the deputy prosecutor will seek out evidence to confirm the theory he believes occurred. At the same time, that deputy prosecutor will disregard any exculpatory evidence as inconsequential. This phenomenon is known as ‘confirmation bias’. It is a complex process, but from the research I have reviewed, it appears once a person is arrested, a commitment has been made, and there is no turning back…
“When it comes to [my first wife], I am trying to be patient. She is probably feeling a lot of anxiety and guilt about lying in her testimony, but she was sought out by the deputy prosecutor, who in turn manipulated her to present those lies to the jury and court. In an effort to empathize with her, I have walked in her shoes, metaphorically. … When you think about it, we have no control over what other individuals do or say. We can only control what we say or do. I can’t change what happened in the past, the future hasn’t happened yet. All I can do is deal with the present, my actions. I choose to show [her] the love others have shown me… Thank you for showing me love… You’re in my thoughts and prayers.”
During my years of ministry with and for Bob, I have conferred with attorneys and prison chaplains. One attorney, who had himself been in jail before reforming and, after his release, earning a law degree to help indigent prisoners, estimated that about 5% of people who are convicted are actually innocent. The media frequently report stories of convicted felons who are later proven innocent by DNA or other evidence, often several years or even decades after their conviction. A chaplain with twenty years of experience told me, “Let me tell you frankly. The system never wants to admit it was wrong. It will do so only when adverse publicity is so bad that it is better to release a wrongfully convicted person than to continue to ignore his case. And you only get sufficient adverse publicity by making the case a high media item or get a celebrity on your side.”
I don’t know what more I can do for Bob beyond what I have already done. I continue to write to him and pray for him, encourage and enable others to minister to him with their own gifts, and keep his name before the public—such as with this blogpost. I’ve reminded him more than once that Jesus was also falsely convicted, so he’s in good company. I’ve seen Bob grow and mature in his spiritual life over these nineteen years. I still hope that one day he will be set free and be able to return to the church that has never forgotten him. Blessed Sacrament prays for Bob publicly at the 8:00 a.m. Sunday Mass every week—the service he attended regularly for a number of years. I urge readers of this blog also to pray for him. Maybe this blogpost will even begin something that will lead to justice for Bob. It would be an answer to prayer and an act of justice long denied.
Bob welcomes letters. You can write to him at
Mr. Bob S. Janoe
Calipatria State Prison, B-5-112
P. O. Box 5005
Calipatria, CA 92233