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Joanna Lynne McELRATH





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 1, 2011
Date of arrest: 5 days after
Date of birth: 1975
Victim profile: Her husband, Robert McElrath, 37 (Susanville Police Officer)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Susanville, Lassen County, California, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on May 23, 2014

Lassen woman sentenced to 25 years to life for murder of police-officer husband

By Jane Braxton Little -

Friday, May 23, 2014

SUSANVILLE -- A Lassen County judge sentenced Joanna Lynn McElrath to 25 years to life in prison Friday for the first-degree murder of her husband, Susanville Police Officer Robert McElrath.

Joanna McElrath, 39, pleaded guilty in March to the 2011 New Year’s Day slaying, which was allegedly committed with the help of her romantic partner at the time, 49-year-old Robin Glen James.

In exchange for the plea and waiving her right to appeal the conviction, Lassen County District Attorney Robert M. Burns dropped special allegations against McElrath that would have precluded the possibility of parole. He also dismissed a charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

Robert McElrath, 37, was drugged with a prescription narcotic before he was driven in his own car to a railroad trestle over the Susan River 7 miles west of Susanville. There, though off-duty at the time, he was shot with his service weapon, and his body was later dumped off the bridge.

In handing down his sentence, Superior Court Judge John T. Ball denied Joanna McElrath probation and ordered her to pay $8,913 in restitution to cover the costs of her husband’s funeral. The judge imposed the mandatory sentence but awarded McElrath credit for the 1,233 days she has spent in custody.

When she is released from state prison is now up to the parole board and her own behavior, he said.

The judge continued the case against James to July 11. He faces premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder and special allegations that the murder involved lying in wait and use of a firearm.

Robert McElrath’s murder changed the life of his 18-year-old adopted daughter, Samantha McElrath, a product of Joanna’s previous marriage. “I lost both my dad and my mom … Thanks to my mom I’ll never have a normal day in my life,” she said in court Friday, leaving the witness stand in tears.

Tish Beckett, McElrath’s mother, described her daughter’s years of promiscuity and stubborn resistance to getting treatment for depression and mental instability. In a courtroom packed with relatives of both Joanna and Robert McElrath, Beckett asked the McElrath family to forgive the Beckett family.

And she called for both families to make the McElraths’ four children, two of them from Joanna’s previous marriage, their first priority. “They need each and every one of us,” she said.

Dorene Perez, Robert McElrath’s mother, spoke directly to Joanna McElrath, who sat impassive and handcuffed in a blue prison jumpsuit throughout the 90-minute hearing. “Most mothers put their children first. You didn’t,” Perez said.

In her statement to the court, McElrath briefly apologized for her crimes. But she focused on the difficulty of having been in custody for more than three years, describing it as “far from an easy time.”

“And I know that (Robert) loves me still,” she said, prompting several family members to leave the courtroom.

Burns, the district attorney, reacted to McElrath’s statement with an angry response. “The sentiment I heard today doesn’t even scratch the surface,” he said. “We hope (McElrath’s) discomfort continues.”


Susanville woman pleads guilty to murdering her police officer husband

By Jane Braxton Little -

Monday, Mar. 3, 2014

SUSANVILLE -- Joanna Lynne McElrath, 39, faces 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to the 2011 murder of her husband, Susanville police Officer Robert McElrath, 37.

The plea, entered Friday before Judge John T. Ball, gives the Susanville resident “a shot at parole but a long time in the future,” said Lassen County District Attorney Robert M. Burns.

Burns initially charged McElrath with premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder, with special allegations that the murder involved lying in wait and was committed for financial gain.

The conspiracy charge was dropped, which could reduce McElrath’s sentence. She is scheduled for sentencing on May 23.

Robin Glen James, 49, McElrath’s alleged co-conspirator, is scheduled to appear in Lassen County Superior Court on May 23 for a trial-setting conference. The court delayed his case until the conclusion of McElrath’s, Burns said.

James faces charges of premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder and special allegations that the murder involved lying in wait and his use of a firearm.

Authorities say McElrath and James, who were romantic partners in January 2011, drugged Robert McElrath with a prescription narcotic before using his own car to drive him to a railroad trestle over the Susan River, seven miles west of Susanville, where they shot him with his service weapon and returned later to dump his body off the bridge.

McElrath’s plea eliminates her jury trial, which was scheduled to be held in Yuba County after Ball ruled that the publicity surrounding her case was so extensive that neither defendant would receive a fair trial in Lassen County.


Jailers separate suspects in officer's killing; woman's boyfriend kept in Lassen County

By Sean Longoria -

February 19, 2011

A Lassen County woman accused of conspiring to murder her husband, a Susanville police officer, was moved to the Shasta County jail earlier this month.

Joanna Lynne McElrath, 37, of Susanville was arrested Jan. 6. She and her boyfriend, Robin Glen James, 46, face murder and other charges connected to the death of Officer Robert McElrath, 37, of the Susanville Police Department.

Joanna McElrath — formerly Beckett — and James originally were booked into the Lassen County jail after their arrests.

She was transferred to the Shasta County jail Feb. 2 for security reasons and to separate her from James, said Lassen County Undersheriff John Mineau.

"It's just a lot easier to keep them apart if they're both not here," Mineau said.

Robert McElrath worked at the jail before joining the Susanville Police Department in 2003, but Mineau said that was not a factor in the transfer.

"It's been a long time since he's worked here," he said.

Joanna McElrath and James are being held without bail.

They pleaded not guilty Jan. 10 to charges of murder, conspiracy and special allegations that they committed the murder for financial gain and lying in wait.

Lassen County deputies found Robert McElrath dead from a gunshot wound Jan. 2 near a railroad trestle west of Susanville.

He was off duty at the time of the shooting, the sheriff's office has said.

McElrath's death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy Jan. 3 and further investigation, deputies said.

James is accused of having shot him.

Robert McElrath was a Marine before becoming a correctional officer for the sheriff's office, said Sheriff-Coroner Dean F. Growdon.

He then joined the Susanville Police Department as a reserve officer; in 2006, he became a regular officer.

A preliminary hearing had been set for Feb. 2 but was postponed until March 9 because one of Joanna McElrath's attorneys had a timing conflict, the Lassen County Times reported.


Accused Killers of Susanville Officer Text During Crime

By Terri Russell -

January 31, 2011

According to court transcripts filed in Lassen County Superior Court text messages between Joanna McElrath and Robin James show a nearly hour by hour documentation of their alleged efforts to kill Susanville Officer Robert McElrath on the night of January 1st.

AT 7:17 Joanna's phone records show she texted James with: "...gave him a mudslide with meds he downed it, then had a kamakazi no meds and is in the shower, I'm making another mudslide for him.

At 7:20 James' phone records show a reply where he told her to be careful and that he loved her.

8:55" Joanna: "how long so these (expletive) take."

James: "listen to his breathing, when it gets rough and shallow do the fur thing, love you honey."

9:01: Joanna texts James about the amount of pills given to her husband.

James: "(expletive) he needs to take all

9:03: Joanna: "i'm ready for you to use his gun on his rt temple."

9:58: Joanna: "I'm freaking out"

At 10:08 she indicated that she got her husband to take the last three pills.

10:21: Joanna: "want me to get the rap outta here os you can so what you need to do, I will lv door unlocked."

A reply from James says he wanted the gun so he could get the feel of it.

In a later text message James asks if Joanna is having second thoughts.

Joanna's reply: "No I wanted this to work with him to just go ot sleep and nvr wake up! I don's know what to do right now I want a life with you and I want future as ur wife forever!!"

James: " I have a gun I'm wiling to use for you not many men have GONE this far for you."

At 12:51 James writes he is on his way to Devil's Corral, at 1:06 a message reads "here,"

Joanna Responds: "I LOVE YOU HONEY."

She later texts: "Should I send a text to (robert's) phone asking him where he is and if he's OK?

James tells her to send the text.

Joanna later writes: "I’m shaking uncontrollably here!!! What kind of woman am I?

James responds: "You are an abused woman. You did NOT TO ANYTHING.

After Joanne tells James the scanner indicates law enforcement and an ambulance are on their way to devil's bridge.

James writes " we go, by the way me and you saw each other yest. Need to explaing my fingerprints on the car. Know what I MEAN?

A preliminary hearing is expected to be set for Joanna McElrath and Robin James this Wednesday in Lassen County Superior Court.

The District Attorney has not yet indicated whether he will seek the death penalty.


Joanna McElrath


The victim

Robert McElrath, Susanville Police Officer.



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