A Queens woman who shot and killed her husband as he was shaving in their bathroom was acquitted Thursday of murder but convicted of a weapon charge in a case that cast a spotlight on the world of sustained domestic violence.
The jury agreed with the self-defense theory in the trial of Barbara Sheehan.
Supporters of Sheehan, many dressed in purple to express solidarity with domestic violence victims, ignored the judge's orders for silence, screaming and cheering as the verdict was read.
The weapon charge carries a mandatory prison sentence. Her attorney said that conviction would be appealed.
"There's no joy today," attorney Michael Dowd said, standing outside court with Sheehan, who clutched her two grown children. "The only thing that can bring joy to this family would be to bring them back 17 years before the first blow was struck."
The 50-year-old petite mother of two had said she shot in self-defense after her husband of 24 years, retired NYPD 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 was a nervous battered woman who was too fearful and too broken-down to leave him and was too scared to call for help when he was abusing her because of his stature in the police department, she testified.
Her children, Jennifer and Raymond, also testified to what life was like at home, saying they walked on eggshells around their father, always worried about when he would crack and take out his anger on their mother. 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. Assistant District Attorney Deborah 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 emotional testimony was fabricated in an effort to protect their mother, and they, too, lived charmed lives. Pomodore flashed photos of the family on vacations, smiling in bathing suits.
"I think the verdict was a bad verdict. But this is the system and you've got to live with it," Sgt. Sheehan's twin brother, Vincent Sheehan, said afterward.
Central to her argument was the idea that if Sheehan was abused, she should've called for help but never did. And there would have been some type of tangential proof — photos or scars.
The night before Raymond Sheehan was shot in February 2008, the couple had driven to Connecticut to drop off their son's laundry. On the way home, she says he broke her nose, and the two went to the hospital, but she didn't stay. In her arrest photo, her nose or face isn't obviously bruised.
Pomodore suggested that Sheehan didn't fit the profile of a battered woman — she was outspoken and not isolated from friends and family, and her weeping, gagging nervous behavior on the witness stand was nothing more than "crocodile tears."
"She wants to be dubbed the victim," Pomodore said. "This is not a case about domestic violence. It could've been — had Barbara Sheehan ever reported once the litany of allegations, had she ever once called 911."
But domestic violence experts argued that part of the issue with battered women is they don't call for help — they are too afraid, or they feel guilty or like the abuse is somehow their fault. They also have periods of happiness with their abusive spouses, and that only adds to the confusion, the experts said. They feel under siege, threatened, and are mentally broken so they feel their concerns carry no weight, they said.
But for jurors to find that Barbara Sheehan killed in self-defense, they had to decide she felt he was imminently going to kill her — past abuse and verbal assaults don't count under the law.
After the verdict was read, Vincent Sheehan was asked if he thought his brother would rest in peace. He said yes.
"I think the truth is what makes you rest in peace," he replied, "not what 12 citizens say about it."