NBC New York
The fate of a Queens woman accused of killing her retired NYPD husband now lies in the hands of a jury. John Noel reports.
Barbara Sheehan, accused of shooting her husband to death with his police-issued gun, was either a battered woman and victim, or an executioner, lawyers argued Monday.
The 50-year-old school secretary was portrayed by prosecutors as a manipulator and a liar, so angry over her husband Raymond's infidelity and their crumbling marriage that she decided to shoot him to death. Defense attorneys maintained she shot in self-defense because he had threatened to kill her with his gun, and, after 17 years of marriage, she was enough of an expert on his terrorizing behavior to know he was serious.
Sheehan has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. Retired New York Police Department Sgt. Raymond Sheehan, who was 49 when he died, was shaving and had one of his two handguns with him on the vanity when she fired his .38-caliber revolver.
Prosecutors say she fired 11 times out of rage over his infidelities and bizarre sexual preferences, and that she stood to benefit from his two life insurance policies.
On Monday, Sheehan sat with her head in her hands, wearing a purple scarf meant to show support for victims of domestic violence. Earlier in the trial, she gave a chest-clutching, tearful account of the day her husband died, saying that she didn't know how many times she fired but that she took one of his loaded weapons from the bedroom and squeezed the trigger.
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Pomodore said Sheehan was an affront to abused women, because there was no physical proof Raymond Sheehan had hurt her. Sheehan never sought help and never called 911. Pomodore flashed photos of the couple on vacations, smiling in bathing suits. She argued that emotional testimony by their children Jennifer and Raymond on witnessing their father's abuse was all a lie, despite the son saying he'd considered suicide.
"She wants to be dubbed the victim," Pomodore said of Barbara Sheehan. "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."
Domestic violence experts say battered women often have periods of happiness with their abusive spouses and live in a culture of fear that prevents them from seeking help. They feel under siege, threatened, and are mentally broken so they feel concerns carry no weight.
"She's on trial for what happened in that house on that day and the past is relevant to inform her sense of fear. She's on trial for the whole relationship," said Holly Maguigan, a law professor at New York University Law School who specializes in abuse cases.
"The prosecution approach is to minimize what he did and to taunt her for not taken advantage of opportunities to leave, but they know perfectly well why she didn't."
Pomodore suggested that Sheehan did not fit the profile of a battered woman — she was outspoken and not isolated from friends and family and her behavior on the witness stand was nothing more than "crocodile tears."
Defense attorney Michael Dowd said she had lived through a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her husband. She realized his patterns of abuse had become even more unpredictable leading up to the fight that touched off the shooting on Feb. 18, 2008. When he said he was going to kill her if she didn't come with him on vacation to Florida, she believed him, Dowd said.
"She was never able to successfully defend herself against him," Dowd said in the trial's closing arguments. "The only way she was going to survive, was to act, or she'd be dead."
Sheehan testified that her husband had been pointing a larger, loaded gun at her head that sat next to him on the vanity in the bathroom as she showered.
Raymond Sheehan kept two loaded guns with him at all times, seven years after he retired from the department. Dowd described him as a terrifying man who heaped abuse on his wife. Lawyers say that he had a sexual fetish in which he liked to dress in diapers, and that he may have been having affairs — but he hid that side from the rest of the world.
"This man led a double life," Dowd said. "He wanted ... on the outside world ... to be respected."
The jury is expected to begin deliberations Tuesday.