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Topic 69 of 113: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis

Sat, Jul 13, 2002 (22:05) | Paul Terry Walhus (terry)
The Janni Smith story is amazing. It's about a woman who was stalked and injured severely by a Houston millionaire and who fought back and won.

I just saw in on Lifetime tv tonight. The movie is called "Sleeping with the Devil" and Shannon Dougherty portrays this brave woman who battled back for the worst circumstances and victimization.
10 responses total.

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 1 of 10: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sat, Jul 13, 2002 (22:06) * 33 lines 
Her own words:

Janni Smith Story airs on CBS television
Editor's note: The following letter was written by Janni Smith Petrofsky, RN, to Carol Hudson in the School of Allied Health Professions. Ms. Smith's husband Jerrold S. Petrofsky, PhD, is professor of physical therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions. The following is used with permission.

* * *

Dear Carol:

As promised, I am sending some of my "thoughts" about the television movie to be aired on CBS this month [the film was aired on Tuesday, April 22]. These are informal musing I scratched down quickly in no particular order.

This move is not my life story. I served as a member of the production team and as a technical advisor. I also had an infinitely tiny acting part, which was great fun. A few events form my life became a springboard for the script.

There are many things in the movie that are contrary to who I am, what I stand for and what I believe. I asked the producer not to use my name and he was kind enough to comply.

The character does not reflect my attitude, feelings, or beliefs. The movie does not include any of my hard-won accomplishments or the work I've been involved in all these long years. It also does not include Dr. Petrofsky's Nobel prize nomination.

This move is going to help me fulfill a lifelong dream--to go to medical school

I've had numerous move and book offers over the years and although many of them were generous, I've always declined. But in this case the timing seem providential. I want to attend medical school (hopefully Loma Linda) and this move has provided me with the tuition to do so.

I was shot four times at point blank range and as a result I am paralyzed form the chest down. When those four bullets struck my body, I prayed that my life would be spared. And I promised that if it was, I would make my life as rich and productive and fulfilling as possible. I have always been grateful that my prayer was answered. The character in the movie becomes bitter and angry when she learns of her paralysis, because this is a more "normal" response. Still, I think it's a shame that it was done that way, because it doesn't acknowledge the power of prayer and the gratitude we owe for our good fortune.

At one point in my life walking was my dream and I pursued it vigorously. It was exhilarating beyond words when that dream came true. But I hope this move does not send a message that walking is the end-all for people with paralysis. Really, it's something most two-year-olds can do and it shouldn't define you as a human being. I do hope, instead, that the move inspires people to go after their dreams, whatever those dreams might be.

All of the actors, members of the production team, crew, and extras were a great pleasure to work with. Shannon Doherty was an angel who put in endless hours training for this role. I think she gave what read in the script as a weak, self-possessed, whiny character an extraordinary strength.


Janni Smith

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 2 of 10: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sat, Jul 13, 2002 (22:06) * 56 lines 
And here's the official press release.

July 21, 1994, Thursday, Orange County Edition

SECTION: Metro; Part B; Page 1; Column 1; Metro Desk

LENGTH: 810 words



Irvine rehabilitation specialist Janni Smith always believed that the Texas millionaire she claims arranged to have her shot -- leaving her paralyzed from the waist down -- would one day be captured. After a 14-year wait, her fugitive ex-lover was behind bars.

Richard Minns, 64, was arrested Tuesday at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on suspicion of obtaining several passports with fraudulent information and names. Minns, who was never charged in Smith's shooting, fled the country in 1981. He now faces a $60-million judgment she later won against him in a personal injury lawsuit. "It took me completely by surprise," said Smith, 41, a former wheelchair marathoner whose work at the Petrofsky Centers for Rehabilitation and Research has been featured on national television news programs. "I'm one of those people who never really gives up hope."

Back in the '70s, the millionaire and his young girlfriend were a glamorous presence on the Houston social scene.

Minns was a charismatic, youthful-looking health club tycoon when they met on a Colorado ski slope. Smith, whose name at the time was Barbra Piotrowski, was a bright and beautiful California pre-med student and part-time model 24 years his junior.


Seven months after Smith broke up with Minns in 1980, she was shot four times in the back while parked in a Houston lot. Four men, including a private detective hired by Minns to tap her phone and harass her after they broke up, were later imprisoned for conspiracy to commit murder. Fearful for her life after the shooting, she changed her name.

The district attorney's office, which was criticized by members of the legal community and the public for not having indicted Minns, maintained there was insufficient evidence.

Frustrated by the failure of the criminal justice system to charge or even question Minns regarding her attack, Smith in 1982 filed a civil suit against him for causing her injuries. But by then Minns already had liquidated all his assets and left the country.

On Tuesday, he was on a flight from Cancun, Mexico, that stopped off at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport when he was arrested, according to Eric Nichols, the assistant U.S. Attorney who will prosecute the case. The flight's final destination was Vancouver, Canada, where Minns now lives. During a routine customs check, Minns was stopped and later detained.

Nichols would not comment on whether law enforcement agencies had been pursuing Minns for anything besides the alleged passport violations. But during a Wednesday night phone call to The Times, he quoted the county district attorney saying on television that local prosecutors still believed there was insufficient evidence to pursue Minns for the Smith attack.

Nichols would not comment on how federal authorities discovered the passports, which the indictment alleges were obtained by using false names. He said they will argue in court Friday that Minns should remain in custody during his trial.

The attorney who represented Minns in court Wednesday, Michael Ware, could not be reached later for comment.


Minns, who has been living in different countries over the past decade, was using the alias Harlan Allen Richardson at the time of his arrest. His capture is the result of a two-year investigation.

As a wheelchair athlete after the shooting, Smith won more than a dozen marathons. As president of the Petrofsky Centers for Rehabilitation and Research, she has helped develop medical technologies that enable paralyzed muscles to move for exercise as well as for walking and hand movement.

The shooting and Smith's love affair with Minns was chronicled in the 1991 book, "Sleeping With the Devil," by former trial lawyer Suzanne Finstad.

Finstad, who was attending law school in Houston at the time, remembers a full-length, front-page photo of Smith in her bikini with the headline: "Who Shot the Golden Girl?"

During her research for the book, Finstad had discovered that Minns was living under the name Richard O'Toole in the Bahamas, where he was posing as an international tax lawyer and living in a lavish waterfront estate.

Finstad said a State Department official heard an interview with her on TV's "Hard Copy" in which she expressed her "frustration that the (Houston) DA hadn't pursued a case against Minns."

Steve Sumner, the Dallas lawyer representing Smith's civil suits, said Minns' arrest is a "positive development from Janni's standpoint. Now that he's surfaced, it opens the door for us to be able to take his deposition and find out where his assets are so she can collect on the judgments against him."

Sumner also represents Smith in a civil rights lawsuit, which was filed last year. It claims that the Houston Police Department was aware of a contract to have Smith killed six weeks before the shooting and did not warn her.

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 3 of 10: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sat, Jul 13, 2002 (22:10) * 25 lines 
6:06 PM 4/17/1997


Houstonian's book on Minns hits small screen

The Sunday snooper: Houstonians who knew former Houston health spa chain
owner Richard Minns and have been following his escapades for years will
want to watch Sleeping With the Devil, a TV movie adaptation of former
Houston writer Suzanne Finstad's book of the same title. It will air on
CBS, Channel 11 here, at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Minns originally got a lot of
attention years ago performing odd physical feats, such as swimming
umpteen times around Lake Tahoe. He was in the news again in 1994 when he
was nabbed at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for passport fraud and was
jailed for awhile by immigration officials. Some years ago, Minns
allegedly hired a hit man to kill his then-fiancee, Houstonian Barbra

Piotrowski, who didn't die but was paralyzed and remains in a wheelchair.
She has since changed her name to Janni Smith, is married and lives in
California. Shannen Doherty is playing Rebecca Dubrovich, the character
based on Smith, and Tim Matheson co-stars as Dick Strang, who is based on
Minns. Steven Ford, the actor son of former President Gerald and Betty
Ford, plays the character based on Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin. ...

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 4 of 10: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sat, Jul 13, 2002 (22:12) * 1 lines 

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 5 of 10: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sat, Jul 13, 2002 (22:14) * 3 lines 
The above picture from a page chronicling the heroes in the fight against paralysis.

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 6 of 10: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sat, Jul 13, 2002 (22:25) * 75 lines 
December 28, 1997, Sunday, Final EDITION


LENGTH: 1381 words




There must be some secret ingredient in the air over Texas which compels husbands, wives and assorted lovers to shoot each other. Today's Texas tragedy had its roots on the ski slopes of Aspen, Colo. That's where Barbara Piotrowski met Richard Minns.

Barbara was 24 years old. She had the body and looks of a movie star. Long blonde hair accentuated her finely chiselled features. She had won several beauty contests and had been a part-time model since the age of 16.

No dumb blonde, our Barbara - her school marks were straight A's. The day she met Dick on the slopes, she was taking pre-med courses at night. From the time she was little more than a child she had wanted to be a medical doctor. When they met in 1977, Dick was 48-years-old. On that fateful January day, he told Barbara he owned a chain of health clubs in Texas and made his headquarters in Houston. No flies on Dick either. He was a health nut and it showed. Dick Minns had the body of a Greek god.

Barbara was impressed, if a little dubious, about her new friend's financial status. By the time their stay in Aspen was over, the pair agreed to exchange telephone numbers. Barbara returned to California and her studies at UCLA; Dick to Texas and his health clubs.

Within a few weeks, Dick was on the phone imploring Barbara to join him in Aspen that March. Initially, she resisted the invitation, but gradually gave in. At Aspen the pair were inseparable. They soon became lovers. Both were totally intrigued, one with the other.

Dick coaxed Barbara to move to Houston and live with him. She could continue her medical studies there. He claimed he couldn't live without her. For her part, Barbara had never met anyone quite like Dick Minns. He was the answer to every woman's dream. She moved to Houston.

What Dick neglected to tell Barbara was that he was married - well married for the past 25 years - and the proud father of three children. His daughter was older than Barbara. Wife Mimi was an active partner in his health club business.

Dick had started out in the advertising game and had switched to the health-club business when that industry was in its infancy. He made it big, real big. While still in his twenties, Richard Minns was worth several million dollars. He called his luxurious health spas Presidents Club.

Later he would pioneer women's health clubs which he christened First Lady. At the zenith of his business success, Dick owned 32 clubs throughout the U.S. and employed over 1,000 people. He and Mimi were millionaire celebrities in a city of millionaire celebrities.

Dick let Barbara know he had been married and introduced her to his children. He had the gall to tell her he was divorced. Somehow he managed to spend two or three nights a week with Barbara. Friends were amazed at the open affair he carried on. For some time, neither Mimi nor Barbara knew of the other's existence.

Little by little, Dick stick-handled around the truth. He told Barbara he wasn't exactly divorced; he was legally separated. She accepted that.

That summer Mimi found out about Barbara. Within weeks, she informed Dick she would be seeking a divorce. For financial reasons, he implored her to stay married to him. They could come to some sort of arrangement short of divorce. Mimi eventually obtained her divorce and walked away with over $ 5 million as her cut of the business.

Meanwhile, Barbara was ensconced in a townhouse in fashionable Ethan's Glen. For some months all went well. Naturally enough, now that her man was free to marry, Barbara longed to become Mrs. Minns.

Dick expressed undying love, but constantly delayed the marriage. He felt quite content to live with Barbara. Sometimes the couple had heated arguments. According to Barbara, Dick struck her on a couple of occasions. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore. She moved out, taking the contents of the townhouse with her. That was a big mistake.

When Dick came home to the empty townhouse, he was livid. He immediately had Barbara charged with the theft of their furniture. It had been three years since the blonde beauty had moved to Texas to be with her handsome millionaire lover. Now he was charging her with theft.

If ever the bloom was off the rose, it was with this pair of lovers. Barbara attempted to build a life of her own. She taught aerobics classes to support herself and continued her studies at the University of Houston. She instituted "common law" proceedings against Dick, claiming some portion of his assets, while he continued to press the theft charges against her. Always, in the back of her mind was the thought that Dick would punish her for leaving him.

On Oct. 20, 1980, Barbara pulled into the parking lot of a doughnut shop. She made her purchase and returned to her red Firebird. A man leaned into the vehicle's open window, brandishing a revolver. She turned away, attempting to duck. The man shot four times. All four slugs tore into Barbara's back.

By sheer chance, two officers were driving by in their patrol car. One actually witnessed the shooting. They saw the gunman jump into a Cadillac driven by a second man. The officers gave chase and at the same time radioed for an ambulance. After a short chase, the Caddy crashed into a pole. The two men ran away on foot. Hitmen Patrick Steen and Nathaniel Ivery were apprehended while hiding in a nearby field.

Meanwhile, Barbara was undergoing emergency surgery, which saved her life. Two of the bullets had severed her spinal cord. She had no feeling from the waist down and was told she would never walk again.

Steen and Ivery told detectives they had been hired by a Bob Anderson to kill Barbara Piotrowski. They had no idea why she was to be assassinated. Anderson had provided them with the Cadillac. They were to receive $ 4,000 each, while Anderson, who had been hired by someone else, was to keep $ 2,000 for himself.

Bob Anderson was traced. Through him, it was learned that a private detective, Dudley Bell, had hired Anderson to arrange the assassination. Bell had also been hired to do an in-depth investigation of Barbara by none other than Dick Minns. He obviously was gathering material in defence of Barbara's claim to a portion of his assets.

When the smoke cleared, Patrick Steen and Nathaniel Ivery were charged with attempted murder. Both men plea bargained. In return for testifying against the man who had hired them each received sentences of 35 years imprisonment.

It took well over six years to legally nail Bob Anderson. In 1987 he was convicted of solicitation of capital murder and sentenced to 38 years in prison. Dudley Bell was convicted of the same charge and received the same sentence as Anderson.

The Minns/Piotrowski affair is still before the courts. Barbara learned that the Houston Police Department was aware, through an informer, that she was an assassination target long before the shooting took place. She sued the police department for $ 50 million. The case is still to be resolved. She has also sued Dick Minns in a civil action and has been awarded $ 32 million, but as of this writing has not collected one cent.

Dick Minns has never been criminally charged with the shooting. He has continually failed to appear in court, but is represented by high-priced lawyers. It is believed that he has divested himself of all his U.S. holdings and now lives abroad.

As for Barbara Piotrowski, she no longer exists. To wipe out her past life, Barbara has changed her name to Janni Smith. She managed to develop herself into an outstanding wheelchair athlete, winning several marathons throughout the United States.

In 1982, she became deeply involved in research conducted Dr. Jerrold Petrovsky, who was experimenting with electrodes attached to the legs controlled by a computer. Unbelievably, using Petrovsky's method, in 1983 Barbara actually walked. In 1985, this courageous woman completed the Honolulu marathon, a distance of 6.8 miles. Since that time Janni Smith has received several honors for her work with the physically handicapped.

On Nov. 30, 1991, the girl who was shot in the back four times, the girl who was told she would never walk again, married her doctor. She is now Mrs. Janni Petrovsky.

Happy New Year, everyone!

GRAPHIC: 2 photos courtesy the Houston Chronicle 1. SEVERED SPINAL CORD ... One-time model and pre-med student Barbara Piotrowski has been confined to a wheelchair since 1980, when she was shot in the back four times in an attack on her life. 2. Piotrowski's former lover, Richard Minns.

LOAD-DATE: December 30, 1997

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 7 of 10: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sat, Jul 13, 2002 (22:28) * 148 lines 
March 18, 1992, Wednesday, 2 STAR Edition


LENGTH: 1011 words

HEADLINE: "Unsolved Mysteries' takes on Minns-Piotrowski case

BYLINE: ANN HODGES, Houston Chronicle TV Editor; Staff

One of Houston's most notorious murder-for-hire cases is the
main reason to watch tonight's ""Unsolved Mysteries,'' at 7 on NBC
and Channel 2

This mini-drama was made in Houston, by mostly Houston
actors. Only the two starring roles were cast in Los Angeles.

Barbra Piotrowski, ""mid-20's, blonde, brown-eyed, great figure,
very athletic,'' according to the ""Unsolved Mysteries' ''official
casting sheet, is played by Molly Basler. Her onetime lover and
Houston health club tycoon Richard Minns, ""mid-40s, bottle blonde,
eternally tan . . .bodybuilder type,'' is played by Joe Catucci. One day in October 1980, Piotrowski came out of a southwest
Houston doughnut shop and was shot four times in the back. She has
been paralyzed since that day. Four men were tried for the shooting
and are serving prison sentences.

Minns has never been criminally charged, but the tangled case
has been in and out of the courts for years. Suzanne Finstad wrote
a book about it recently, ""Sleeping With the Devil. ''

Piotrowski sued Minns for $ 220 million, charging that he
planned the shooting. Minns denied it and left the country. His
son, attorney Michael Minns, who represented him last year in
court, said then that Minns was in Israel and had joined the
Israeli army.

In 1987 District Judge Bill Elliott ordered the court to
accept that Minns was responsible for the shootings, and ordered
him to pay $ 28.6 million in damages to Piotrowski. In 1991
Piotrowski won a second civil suit she filed against Minns, and the
jury ordered him to pay $ 32 million.

Minns has never appeared in court himself, and no money has
been paid.

Piotrowski is now known as Janni Smith and lives in
California. Late last year, she married the man who runs the
medical center where she works in rehab research for paraplegics.

""This is a very complex and complicated story, not at all
our standard unsolved mystery,'' said ""Unsolved Mysteries'
''Shannon McGinn, who produced this dramatic re-creation of that

It runs a full 25 minutes, twice as long as most of the cases
on ""Unsolved Mysteries. '' And at the end, it poses two questions:
Where is Richard Minns, and does anyone have knowledge of his
financial affairs?

""Assistant District Attorney Ted Wilson, who was directly
related to the case, comes on to say that if anyone has
information, they would love to hear it, because it is still an
open case,'' McGinn said.

The odds are good it could happen. One reason ""Unsolved
Mysteries'' is one of the most-watched series on TV today is that
its viewers have solved so many of the cases it spotlights.

The show shot a full week in Houston, and that, too, is
unusual. Most ""Unsolved'' cases take about half that time. It was
shot at the Fort Bend County Courthouse in Richmond, at Shipley's
doughnut shop on Stella Link (not the shop where Piotrowski was
shot), in Memorial Park, and at several condominiums in southwest

The show always uses local actors and technicians, and for
this one, McGinn used a bigger-than-usual staff of 25.

""In Houston, both the actors and the technicians were
especially good,'' she said. ""There are so many experienced,
talented people there. The only reason we brought actors in from
Los Angeles was that the looks were so specific for those two main
characters. ''

TV's story begins with the meeting of Minns and Piotrowski,
and then the real Piotrowski/Smith comes on to tell the story
herself, as it proceeds to the shooting and two of the court cases.

There are 21 roles in this mini-drama, and Houston's
Pastorini-Bosby talent agency placed 13 of them. Many of the real
names -- on both sides of the casting sheet -- are familiar to many

Minns had divorced his wife of 30 years, and the role of Mimi
Minns (""no description, no pictures available'') is played by
Houston TV personality Warner Roberts. ""She won an ovation from
the crew,'' McGinn reported.

Piotrowski's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin (""short, blond,
good-looking, very intense, dresses sharp and knows how to
manipulate a case his way'') is played by Greg Roach.

HPD Detective Ken Williamson (""tall, well-built, real police
officer type, someone you can trust, he helps break the case'') is
Drew McManigle.

Dudley Bell, the private investigator who was found guilty
and sentenced to 18 years in prison and a $ 10,000 fine for trying
to arrange the murder (""a real P.I. type, tough, hardened'') is
Dell Gibson.

Dorothy Wolfe, Dudley Bell's ex-wife (""heavy Texas accent .

. . a real character'') is Louise Winner.

Judge Bill Elliott (""conservative . . . very serious . . .

looks like a judge even without the robes'') is Brady Coleman.

The cast also includes the men who did the shooting; Judge
Myron Love (""older, gray hair, could be an Ed Asner or Robert
Prosky type''); Assistant District Attorney Ted Wilson (""tall and
thin . . .serious legal type''); Assistant District Attorney Vic
Pecorino (""probably from New York originally . . . fast talker'');
Detective No.1 (""has seen it all and is disgusted with
everything, sort of a Mickey Rourke type''); Detective No. 2 (""a
Jack Webb, just-the-facts-ma'am type''); more lawyers, and a
handful of smaller parts.

There was no preview available, but producer McGinn considers
it one of the most gripping ""Unsolved'' tales she's handled since
she's been with the series, and she's been with it since it
started. It's now in its fifth season.

McGinn has had 14 of her ""unsolved'' mysteries solved by
viewers, including one on a Medicaid scam in New York that put the
perpetrator behind bars. The last one was a segment she shot in
Austin in December, the story of a man's search for the sister he
hadn't seen in 50 years. Viewers found his sister the same night it

""Whenever it happens, it's so great. That's the whole point
of it, and that's the exciting part to those of us who work on the
show,'' she said.

""We're all hoping something happens with this one. ''

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 8 of 10: Conf admin  (cfadm) * Wed, Mar  2, 2005 (15:18) * 7 lines

Welcome to this list of feature films which involve disabilities.
This site presents a detailed list of 2,500 feature films which involve in one way or another various disabilities. It is directed towards teachers, students and anyone who has an interest in how disability is represented in films.
Films are listed in 15 categories and recommended films.

Each category is split into Major and Minor films. Each film is either reviewed or includes a summary.

 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 9 of 10: Conf admin  (cfadm) * Mon, Mar  7, 2005 (08:40) * 5 lines ? A correspondent writes: "The one I saw was a TV movie about one of Jerrold Petrofsky's Functional Electrical Stimulation patients, Nan Davis, a paraplegic. Lots of wheelchair scenes and references to life with a spinal cord injury. "Leg braces" are really limited to the apparatus to stimulate her muscles to walk and aren't traditional orthotics. The real Nan Davis supposedly appeared in at least one or two scenes. Much of the movie was a glowing account about Petrofsky and (unless I am mixing it up with another TV movie) starred Judd Hirsch as Petrofsky. Hope this helps, your website is very nice as usual!"


 Topic 69 of 113 [tv]: Janni Smith - Petrofsky resurrection from paralysis
 Response 10 of 10: tvwatcher (cfadm) * Mon, Jul 21, 2008 (20:09) * 1 lines 
This topic had 163 page views so far this month. But no responses! Speak up, folks!

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