Battered truth syndrome

Posted: Apr 10, 2002 12:00 AM
"Battered woman syndrome" -- the politically correct legal rationalization for letting cold-blooded female killers off the hook -- is now an issue in the California governor's race. Are both Democrats and Republicans really so desperate to close the gender gap that they'll pander to the morally bankrupt voting bloc of women who blindly support women who murder men? Alas, it is so. The current cause celebre is Cheryl Lynn Sellers, who murdered her husband in 1983. The way the Los Angeles Times tells it this week, Sellers endured "abusive" beatings that "began on her wedding night" and continued for four years. The paper reports unquestioningly that the beatings "ended one June evening in 1983, when her husband threatened to kill her daughter and make her watch. 'I couldn't let that happen,' Sellers said. So she killed him instead." A parade of Democrat lawmakers -- including the California legislature's women's caucus and the state Senate's president -- wants to free Sellers after serving 19 years of a 25-years-to-life sentence. The state parole board has also swallowed Sellers' battered woman tale. Democrat Gov. Gray Davis is expected to decide this week whether to uphold the parole board's decision. Where is the conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon on this issue? Not where you might think or hope. Representing the party that is supposed to stand for personal responsibility, and for the belief in absolutes of right and wrong, Simon urged Gov. Davis to apply "discretion" rather than "rigid absolute policies" in deciding the Sellers case. Simon's campaign tells me they're not endorsing Sellers' parole. But in Simon's letter to Gov. Davis, the GOP candidate laments that Sellers was unable to testify about the "violence, abuse and torment in her marriage." At the time of her conviction, Simon points out, "battered woman syndrome was not available to her defense and the results of her trial may have been different." Why Simon, a former federal prosecutor, thinks this trend is a good thing remains a mystery. By arguing that women in bad relationships are helplessly trapped in a psychological prison that prevents them from walking away from their abusers, the battered woman syndrome defense gives scheming spouses a license to kill -- whether or not there was immediate provocation or immediate danger of harm. Female convicts across the country have used the abuse excuse to explain away the murder or mutilation of sleeping spouses, the sexual abuse of children, and the murder of strangers who had nothing to do with the "battered woman's" alleged battering. Without this smokescreen of psychobabble available to her, Sellers had nowhere to hide. She was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury that found her guilty of premeditation in the slaying of her husband. The jury rejected her claim that the loaded .38-caliber handgun she had pulled from a box and held to her husband's head while he lay in bed "accidentally" discharged. The jury sided with Deputy District Attorney Susan Wondries' portrayal of Sellers as a jealous and calculating woman who deliberately plotted her husband's murder when it became clear that their five-year marriage was at an end. Lost in all the current pathos over Sellers' "plight" was the evidence presented at trial that Sellers tried to make the murder look like a robbery-suicide by taking his wallet after the shooting and leaving their home to establish an alibi. The prosecution also presented testimony showing that Sellers had told a girlfriend that she would kill her husband if she ever caught him with another woman. Hardly the sentiments of a frail, shrinking victim suffering from learned helplessness and low self-esteem. Mau-maued by feminist groups and media sympathizers, governors in nearly two dozen states have granted clemency to convicted killers based on the dubious battered woman syndrome theory. "I hope that we can keep politics out of such decisions," Simon says. Too late. In the Sellers case, as in so many others, it is truth that seems to have taken the worst beating of all.