Date: September 21, 2016
OCDA TO OPPOSE PAROLE OF INMATE CONVICTED OF 1976 FIRST DEGREE MURDER OF CYPRESS POLICE OFFICER RESPONDING TO BURGLARY
SANTA ANA, Calif. – The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) is opposing the parole of an inmate convicted of the first-degree murder of a Cypress Police Department (CPD) officer responding to a burglary being perpetrated by the inmate. Bobby Joe Denney, 72, is currently being held at the California Institute for Men in Chino. Denney pleaded guilty on May 16, 1977, to one felony count of possession of a firearm by a felon, and was convicted by a jury on June 15, 1977, of one felony count of first degree murder with a sentencing enhancement for being armed with a deadly weapon. In 1977, before life without parole or the death penalty were enacted, Denney was sentenced to life in state prison.
Denney is scheduled for a parole hearing tomorrow, Sept. 22, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. at the prison before the Board of Parole Hearings (Panel), California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This case was originally prosecuted by then Senior Deputy District Attorney Bryan Brown.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki will be attending the hearing at the state prison to oppose Denney’s parole, as well as members of CPD and family members of the fallen police officer.
Murder of Sergeant Donald Sowma
On Nov. 19, 1976, at approximately 2:30 a.m., Denney, the son of a county sheriff from Oklahoma, burglarized a medical clinic in Cypress in an attempt to steal narcotics. He forced entry through a locked window, triggering a silent alarm that prompted CPD officers to respond to the scene. Denney was equipped with a revolver, pry bars, lock picks, and a radio with an earpiece.
CPD Sergeant Donald Sowma, who had responded to the scene, heard a noise coming from a room in an art gallery adjacent to the doctor’s office, and as he approached the doorway, Denney fired a single shot. The round struck Sowma in the chest and Denney delayed rescue attempts by firing a second shot toward the responding officers. Officers risked their lives to retrieve Sowma and transport him to a nearby hospital, where he later died as a result of the bullet wound.
The inmate refused to surrender for over six hours. He fired a third shot at officers who attempted to take him into custody after tear gas and less than lethal methods were implemented to extract him from the scene. At approximately 8:30 a.m., officers from various agencies persuaded Denney to surrender.
During their investigation, CPD discovered Denney and his wife booked a hotel room across the street from the medical office. Police scanner radio equipment and injectable narcotics were found in the Denneys’ possession.
Lack of Insight and Threat to Public Safety
At the inmate’s last parole hearing on Sept. 5, 2013, the Panel denied Denney’s parole for three years, deciding that he continued to pose an unreasonable threat to public safety and was a danger to society if released from prison. The Panel concluded that Denney committed a crime in a “disturbing manner,” and multiple surviving members of Sowma’s family described the heartbreaking impact the murder has on their lives each day.
Since his incarceration, Denney has, “lacked insight into his own actual past dangerousness, which suggests a lack of ability to engage in self-monitoring.” The inmate continues to fail to articulate why he chose a criminal path of conspiring with others and illegally carrying a gun to commit offenses. He is not forthcoming about the role narcotics use played in his life at the time of the crime, and blames his then-wife and her family for sending him down a troubled path. Denney was on probation at the time of the crime, indicating a poor response to supervision. Despite his age, the inmate’s physical health does not limit his ability to reoffend.
While in custody, Denney has accumulated prison rule violations for refusing to report to work and possessing inmate manufactured weapons. The inmate’s inability to internalize the effect of his crime and lack of thought given to how he plans to transition if granted parole poses a risk to society, and he should not be granted parole.