Jury accepts battered-wife defense, acquits N.Y. woman of murder
Was Barbara Sheehan a battered wife who shot her husband, a retired police sergeant, in self-defense, or was she a calculating killer determined to collect on his life insurance? After three days of deliberations, a jury Thursday chose the former.
It acquitted Sheehan of murder in a trial that was seen by some people as a referendum on battered-woman syndrome.
Sheehan, 50, was convicted of a weapons charge for her use of a gun in the 2008 slaying and could face three to 15 years in prison when she's sentenced in November.
But family members, friends and supporters who packed the courtroom in the New York borough of Queens erupted in cheers and wept in relief when the acquittal on the murder charge was announced. It came a day after jurors had declared themselves deadlocked, only to be sent back to the deliberating room by the judge.
The case had drawn considerable attention in New York because of the defense strategy.
Outside of court, Sheehan's lawyer, Michael Dowd, said that despite the relief, there was no joy. "The only thing that could bring joy to this family is to bring them back to 17 years ago, before the first blow was struck," he told reporters.
Sheehan was married for 24 years to Raymond Sheehan, who was a retired New York police sergeant when he was killed in their Queens home in February 2008.
She admitted shooting her husband but said she did so after years of abuse and after he had threatened to kill her. During the trial, which lasted nearly a month, Sheehan testified that she was too scared to leave her husband. Her grown daughter and son testified on their mother's behalf, describing their father as violent, unpredictable and always armed.
Sheehan's 25-year-old daughter, Jennifer, testified last month that she recalled "millions" of violent outbursts from her father as she was growing up. "It happened every day."
Asst. Dist. Atty. Debra Pomodore, though, said that Sheehan was angry because she thought her husband was cheating on her, and that she shot him 11 times, using two different weapons, as he shaved in the bathroom. Pomodore called it a "self-serving execution."
Afterward, Richard Sheehan's brother, Vincent, told reporters outside the courthouse that it was a "wrong verdict. But the verdict is the verdict."
-- Tina Susman in New York
Photo: Barbara Sheehan, shown last month during her murder trial. Credit: Rich Maiman / Associated Press