- Law Job Star
Robert Jambois, Special Prosecutor for the Jensen Murder Trial - With a Little Help from Beyond the Grave
by Mary Waldron
Jambois just wrapped up his efforts in the Jensen trial, which took place in Wisconsin and ended with Jensen getting life in prison with no possibility of parole. We caught up with Jambois on the eve of Jensen's sentencing, at which time Jambois confidently and accurately predicted the outcome of the next day's hearing.
Jambois knew that he wanted to become an attorney at a young age, but not for the usual reasons. Initially, he didn't seek to practice law for the money or to fulfill a deep need for justice in society. In fact, he simply wanted to get even with the system.
"I lost a lawsuit in a case that involved a racing engine, and I should have won. The reason I didn't win was because I didn't know the rules. As I was walking out of the courtroom after losing, the lawyer for the other guy put his arm on my shoulder and said, 'Well, son, just move on.' I thought, 'No, I'm not going to move on. I'm going to learn the rules. If I'm going to get screwed because I don't know the rules, I'm going to learn the rules.' So I decided right then and there that I was going to go to college, go to law school, and I was going to become a lawyer."
And he did just that.
Prior to this career epiphany, Jambois drove and worked on race cars. After making his decision to return to school, he paid a visit to his high school guidance counselor and shared his new career plans. Despite his counselor's humorous attitude toward the whole idea — an attitude based on Jambois' academic past — he helped Jambois get into the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
For the next four years, Jambois attended school during the day and worked on the assembly line at American Motors Corporation at night. He graduated in 1978. Immediately thereafter, he went on to earn his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School, graduating in 1981.
Jambois then returned to Kenosha, WI, where he became an assistant city attorney. After seven years as assistant city attorney, Jambois was elected district attorney and would go on to serve nine terms, a stint which earned him the title of the county's longest-serving district attorney.
Apparently, Julie had some idea that she was going to die that night. As the case began to unfold, investigators found out that Julie had told certain acquaintances that she feared her husband was trying to kill her only months prior to her death. Julie even gave a sealed letter to a neighbor, explaining that if anything happened to her, the neighbor was to submit this letter to the authorities. With this obvious evidence that Mark Jensen may have been plotting to kill Julie, the case was definitely going to be unique.
"It was just a very complex and difficult case. It required years of investigative work to really establish enough evidence to prosecute Mark Jensen," Jambois says.
Jensen was not charged with the murder of his wife until almost three years after her death. And even then, it was only after some lengthy pretrial motions and the Crawford Decision, which reformulated the standard for determining when the admission of hearsay statements in criminal cases is permitted under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that the trial finally got underway in March of 2007.
Meanwhile, Jambois himself had left the D.A.'s office in 2005 to take a slower-paced position as head attorney for the state's department of transportation.
But, when the green light was given for the Jensen trial in 2007, Jambois found his way back to the case. "At some point, the new district attorney contacted me and said, 'This case is just too much; it's too complicated. Would you be willing to come back and assume responsibility of this case as a special prosecutor?' And I agreed to do that," says Jambois.
After taking up the case again, Jambois quickly became invested in it. "In this case, I came to realize that this was truly an exceptionally evil scheme and plot that this innocent woman had been caught up in by a particularly grotesque human being that her husband was," says Jambois. "I felt that this was one of the most cold-blooded crimes that I've ever encountered in my career as a prosecutor."
Ultimately, however, Jambois felt that the cause of justice was served when Jensen's life sentence was handed down.
When asked to describe the influences that have led him to such a successful legal career, Jambois says, "I've looked to most of the judges in Kenosha County as people that I've admired and respected."
Jambois' number one life mentor, however, is his father. "He was a barber, not a lawyer, but he was a very, very wise man. I think I learned a great deal more from him that any [other] single individual," Jambois says. "I certainly admired Dr. Martin Luther King, and I've certainly tried to aspire to his ideals in my everyday life."
As an experienced prosecutor and veteran of the courtroom, Jambois can share a thing or two with aspiring attorneys about courtroom behavior dos and don'ts.
"What you need to do in a courtroom is completely be yourself. If you resort to melodrama or any sort of acting at all, a jury will see through that in a heartbeat. So whatever you do in a courtroom, it's got to be completely real," says Jambois.
He continues, saying, "Another thing to remember in a courtroom is you're not there to win an argument. You're not there to appear to be a smarter person that anyone else. You're only job in a jury trial is to persuade the 12 people that are seated to your right."