A school secretary who was acquitted of murder was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday on a weapons charge for fatally shooting her husband _ a retired police sergeant _ 11 times with his own gun in a sensational case that cast a spotlight on domestic violence.
Barbara Sheehan appeared stunned by the sentence and left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. She is free pending her appeal.
The 50-year-old mother of two had said she shot in self-defense on Feb. 18, 2008 after her husband of 24 years, retired New York Police Department Sgt. Raymond Sheehan, threatened to kill her if she didn't go with him on a Florida vacation. After decades of marriage to a violent and abusive man, her attorney argued, she was enough of an expert on his terrifying behavior to know he was serious.
She grabbed his loaded revolver from the bedroom while he was in the bathroom shaving, a loaded Glock by his side on the vanity. She emptied the revolver, then picked up the Glock and fired six shots. Raymond Sheehan died in the bathroom.
Jurors, nine women and three men, found the wife guilty of a weapons charge for using the Glock. She was found not guilty of a second weapon charge for using the revolver.
The case became a referendum on so-called battered women's syndrome and whether a woman should be capable of getting out of a nasty relationship. The not guilty verdict on the murder charge came as a surprise. Domestic violence experts say battered women accused of killing their partners in self-defense are convicted at about the same rate as others accused of murder.
At Thursday's contentious sentencing in Queens state Supreme Court, the two sides again battled over whether Sheehan had been a battered woman or not.
"Barbara was not the victim in this case," Assistant District Attorney Debra Pomodore said. "Raymond, her husband, was the victim."
Sheehan's lawyer, Michael Dowd, responded, "It became ... a question of whether or not she would live or die. And she chose to live."
Dowd disparaged the prosecution's portrayal of Raymond Sheehan as a dedicated public servant, saying "every time he took his fist, Ms. Pomodore, and hit his wife in the face, that was a crime." He said that the couple's children were forced to witness shocking violence.
Pomodore countered, "A man in the prime of his life was gunned down and left to die on the bathroom floor."
The retired officer's sister-in-law, Linda Sheehan, said in a victim impact statement, "We are heartbroken that the jury has lost sight of the real victim." Linda, who is married to Raymond Sheehan's twin brother, Vincent, said the extended family had shared vacations to the New Jersey shore, barbecues and pool parties.
"The story of the life that Barbara told on the witness stand was not the life that we shared with her and Raymond," she said.
Barbara Sheehan watched her sister-in-law intently, at one point shaking her head.
Linda Sheehan said Barbara had never expressed remorse over killing her husband and never contacted his family to say she was sorry.
Barbara Sheehan insisted in her own brief statement that she had indeed expressed sorrow.
"I've said numerous times that I was sorry," she said. "And I am."
Sheehan told of years of abuse during her monthlong trial, testifying that she was too fearful and broken-down to leave her husband and too scared to call for help. Her children, Jennifer, 25, and Raymond, 21, also gave emotional testimony on their home life, saying they walked on eggshells around their father, always worried about when he would crack and take out his anger on their mother. Sgt. Raymond Sheehan was portrayed as a violent, unpredictable man who carried two loaded guns _ one on his hip and one on his ankle _ at all times.
Prosecutors painted a different picture of the family. Pomodore, in her closing statements, said Barbara Sheehan was a manipulator and a liar, a pampered woman upset that her husband had strayed and their marriage was crumbling. She said the children's testimony was fabricated to protect their mother.
The couple's children did not attend Thursday's sentencing, but Dowd said their son Raymond had contemplated suicide while Jennifer had been driven to anorexia because, she told him, "it was the one thing I could control in my life."
Sheehan's weapons conviction carried a mandatory sentence of 3 1/2 to 15 years, and Dowd had pressed for a sentence of less than the minimum based on Sheehan's status as a battered woman.
He said he was "appalled" by the five-year sentence and promised to appeal the conviction.