Date: September 22, 2016
PAROLE DENIED FOR FIVE YEARS FOR INMATE CONVICTED OF 1976 FIRST DEGREE MURDER OF CYPRESS POLICE OFFICER RESPONDING TO BURGLARY
SANTA ANA, Calif. – The Board of Parole Hearings (Panel), California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Parole denied parole for five years today for 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 Menin 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. This case was originally prosecuted by then Senior Deputy District Attorney Bryan Brown.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki attended the hearing at the state prison to oppose Denney’s parole, along with members of CPD and family members of the fallen police officer.
“This case illustrates the danger a police officer faces in the line of duty. He or she never knows what danger lurks whenever they answer a call,” stated Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. “Orange County is grateful to the Panel who correctly assessed this inmate’s danger to the community, sending a strong message that the killing of a police officer will not be tolerated.”
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 parole hearing today, the Panel denied Denney’s parole for five years, stating in part, “the killing of a police officer supersedes time.”
The Panel stated that Denney failed to take full responsibility for the crime, continuing to deny that he knew it was a police officer when he fired the shot. While in custody, Denney has accumulated prison rule violations for refusing to report to work and possessing inmate manufactured weapons. The inmate minimized his part in the murder and blamed others, failing to internalize the effect of his crime. Denney has not participated in enough self-help programming, and concerns about his drug and substance abuse remain.
The inmate continues to be an unreasonable risk to public safety and therefore, will not be released.