Domestic Violence

Barbara Sheehan's Murder Defense Left Out All This

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The murder trial of a N.Y. policeman's abused wife drew California attorney Tanya Brannan across the country to witness a milestone case. She wonders if more expert testimony might have helped win more leniency for Barbara Sheehan.

QUEENS, N.Y. (WOMENSENEWS)--The jury of nine women and three men who recently decided not to convict Barbara Sheehan of murder had no doubt about who'd killed Raymond Sheehan, a retired New York police sergeant, on Feb. 8, 2008.

Barbara Sheehan had openly admitted discharging the bullets into his body.

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But what drove her to that act made her case closely watched by advocates for battered women--including myself--who have been pushing the courts to recognize the "kill or be killed" alternative facing some victims of long-term and severe domestic violence.

Barbara Sheehan said she had endured two decades of sadistic violence and abuse at the hands of her husband, with near-constant threats to kill her and her family, as news outlets across the country--including Women's eNews--have widely reported.

According to her testimony, on that rainy February morning Raymond Sheehan pointed a gun at her head and said "You're not going anywhere or I will fucking kill you, kill everybody and go down in glory."

"I knew he was going to kill me right then," Barbara Sheehan testified in the Queens, N.Y., courtroom.

While the prosecutor portrayed her as a cold-blooded, murderous liar, the jury decided otherwise, leaving the case open for analysis about what swayed the jury to see her side of the story.

One highly contested issue was whether expert testimony on "battered woman syndrome" would be allowed.

Battered woman syndrome--sometimes also called "battered woman defense"--gives the defense a way of educating a jury as to why a reasonable woman would feel she was in a life and death situation with no way out but homicide.

The original judge in the case ruled it out and an appeal by the defense was denied.

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Excellent, well written article, and I wonder if any of the mainstream news will carry such an accurate and impassioned argument for the defense?!
Anyone who reads this should also read the Kathy Bolcovac story and watch her film "The Whistleblower" about young women who are turned from high school grads looking for a job in another country to sex slaves who live in the worst hovels and are beaten, tortured and killed, and no one is yet helping them; and read Phyllis Chesler's "Women on Trial" about how abused women lose custody of their children to their husband even when he has also been abusing the children.
Women need to be much more vociferous in defending one another publicly, frequently, and especially focussing upon abusive situations. Men are being encouraged from many official mechanisms to continue to abuse women. Only women can stop this!