Since Robert Shippmann became eligible for parole 12 years ago, the family of the woman he murdered has continued to protest his release. They’ve written letters to the Board of Parole Hearings, written to local newspapers, and made statements at his parole hearings.
Until now, that tactic has worked. Shippmann was denied each time, most recently in February 2016. On Thursday, though, during an advanced parole suitability hearing at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, the Parole Board found Shippmann, 79, suitable for parole.
Shippmann has been in jail since the murder of his estranged wife, 28-year-old Juli Mathis Shippmann, in 1993. Shippmann, who was 55 at the time, drove the woman to an isolated area near Caiocca Pass in Angwin and shot her three times before turning the gun on himself in an unsuccessful suicide attempt that rendered him unconscious. They were found by a passerby.
The week before her murder, Mathis had reported being kidnapped, raped and beaten by her estranged husband. An internal investigation of the St. Helena Police Department found that police did not respond as quickly as they should have to Mathis’ report, according to previous Napa Valley Register reports.
Shippmann eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for the charge as well as an additional four years for using a firearm.
So far, the letters have helped keep Shippmann behind bars, according to the victim’s mother, Joanne Mathis Wilson. Wilson said that she was shocked at the Board’s decision Thursday.
“I can’t believe it. Why would you let somebody go that did what he did?” Wilson said. “I just don’t understand the law, I guess.”
The only good thing about it, she said, is that she no longer has to see Shippmann’s face or relive her daughter’s murder.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “They go through everything all over each time ... It is just too hard on the family.”
This year the family started an online petition on Change.org. By Thursday afternoon, there were 432 signatures on the petition, but the opposition wasn’t enough.
Shippmann may be a good inmate, but it doesn’t mean he’ll behave in the outside world, said Bonnie Sears, Mathis’ aunt and former classmate. During his parole hearing last year, she said, he still wouldn’t admit that he had been domestically violent toward Mathis. While they were together, he would act controlling towards Mathis, following her and questioning her, Sears said. After they were separated, she said, he even hired a private investigator to spy on her.
“I think there were a lot of signals,” she said. “(But) back in 1993 domestic violence wasn’t something that was front and center – if it happened, it happened behind closed doors.”
Sears said that she thinks Shippmann is a bad person and can’t be trusted to deal with his anger issues.
The Napa County District Attorney’s Office sends a representative to every state prison parole hearing that results from a Napa crime.
Deputy District Attorney Holly Quate argued against Shippmann’s suitability for parole on Thursday, citing his alleged lack of insight into the crime. Shippmann hasn’t internalized the factors that triggered him, she said.
“He didn’t really say why he did it – he said it was an impulse,” Quate said after the hearing. Quate said that she thinks Shippmann minimized the strife that was between him and Mathis. “He said that it had been a very good relationship until a few months before the murder. I didn’t find that to be credible.”
Mathis’ family spoke at the morning hearing, saying how much they miss Juli, whose life was taken from her too soon, Quate said.
“The ripple effects that this kind of thing causes to a family are not well publicized,” Quate said. “There’s just a lasting devastation that doesn’t heal.”
The family’s next step is to write to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has 30 days to review the decision following a maximum 120-day review by the Board of Parole Hearings.
The governor can decide to take no action, allowing the Parole Board’s decision to stand or he can actively approve it, modify it, reverse it, or refer it back to the Board of Parole Hearings for reconsideration.
If the decision is reversed by either the governor or the Board, the inmate is entitled to another hearing within 18 months from the hearing at which they were granted parole suitability.
“The whole thing is hard to prepare for,” Sears said. If Shippmann gets out of prison, what is the victim’s family supposed to do, she asked. “How do you prepare for it? Do you buy a security system? Do you get a Taser? Do you think because he’s 80 you don’t have to worry about it?”
If granted parole, Shippmann plans to move into temporary transitional housing in Los Angeles.