Battered New York wife who shot husband says truth told at trial

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 03, 2011 7:03 PM
Battered New York wife who shot husband says truth told at trial

By Aman Ali

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A woman whose murder trial in the death of her retired police officer husband is considered a test of the battered woman defense said on Monday that "the truth has now been told" as her case wound to a close.

Final legal arguments in the trial of Barbara Sheehan came after weeks of testimony from her and her grown children about the violent household ruled by Raymond Sheehan, 49, a former sergeant with the New York City Police Department.

Both the prosecution and defense said the beatings and bruises came to an end on February 18, 2008, when Barbara Sheehan shot her husband 11 times in their Queens home. The defense said she fired only after he threatened to kill her.

Outside of state Supreme Court in Queens, Sheehan, now 50, said she hoped a jury would find she acted in self defense when it begins deliberating as early as Tuesday on charges of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

"I think the defense did a great job," she said. "The truth has now been told. We'll see what happens next."

Legal experts say the case is a test of the battered-woman defense, in which the history of abuse is explored to explain a woman's mental state at the time she is accused of committing a crime.

The issue is self defense, which under New York state law justifies the use of lethal force in response to an immediate threat to life. Under the battered-woman defense, lethal force can sometimes be justified even if the threat may not appear immediate.

On Monday, several of Sheehan's friends and family packed the courtroom wearing purple clothes and ribbons symbolizing the fight against domestic violence. Sheehan, who could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted, wore a purple scarf around her neck.

Court documents said the 2008 shooting happened after Sheehan refused to go on a Florida vacation with her husband. Sheehan said in court she was scared because he had threatened to kill her with a gun if she didn't come.

Prosecutors said Sheehan shot her husband 11 times using two guns the former police officer had at home. Her husband was in the bathroom shaving before Sheehan shot him.

According to court documents, Sheehan told police the night of the incident: "I shot him! I shot him! I think he's dead. He's in the bathroom."

The defense said her husband had grabbed a gun he kept in the bathroom and pointed it at her head, and she shot him in self defense. Her daughter Jennifer Joyce told Reuters her mother had no choice but to kill him.

"She acted out of defense," Joyce said. "There were no other options. He was pointing a gun to her head, what's the other option?"

Prosecutors said there were other reasons Sheehan killed her husband, saying she was furious over his infidelity and sexual habits such as wearing diapers and women's clothes. They also said she would benefit from life insurance policies.

Sheehan's son Ray disputed the life insurance allegations.

"I don't think people understand how bad it was at home," he told Reuters. "I don't think they understand how my father threatened to kill us and how if we told anybody about what he was doing that he'd kill us too. I don't think people understand the seriousness of this situation."

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)