Friday, October 7, 2011

Woman Exonerated in NY Shooting

Was this a justified shooting?  What about the gun charge?
New York court clears woman of murder in battered-wife case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York jury cleared a woman who shot dead her retired police officer husband of murder on Thursday in a case that had been seen as a test of the battered-woman defense.
Barbara Sheehan, 50, was acquitted of second-degree murder after three days of deliberations by the jury in state Supreme Court in Queens but was found guilty of a lesser charge of gun possession.
Sheehan's lawyers successfully argued that she fired only after her husband threatened to kill her, and Sheehan and her grown children had testified about the violent household ruled by Raymond Sheehan, 49, a former New York City Police sergeant.
Both the prosecution and defense said the beatings and bruises came to an end on February 18, 2008, when Sheehan shot her husband 11 times in their Queens home.
Legal experts said the case was 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.
Sheehan, wearing a purple scarf around her neck as she often does for domestic violence awareness, declined to speak to reporters as she left the courthouse.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown called the case "terribly sad and tragic," but warned in a statement after the verdict that victims of domestic abuse should seek help through the legal and social services systems, not through violence.
"Six million American women are beaten each year by their husbands or boyfriends," he said. "Think of where we would be if only a fraction of abused women took the law into their own hands."
Key to the battered-woman defense is the issue of self defense. 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.
Jurors came to their decision after reporting to Judge Barry Kron on Wednesday that they were deadlocked.
Court documents said the shooting happened after Sheehan refused to go on vacation with her husband. She testified she was scared because he had threatened to kill her if she didn't go.
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 he had grabbed a gun he kept in the bathroom and pointed it at her head, and she shot him in self defense.
The gun possession charge, based on Sheehan's use of her husband's weapons, carries a possible sentence of 3-1/2 to 15 years in prison. Sentencing was not set but would likely take place in early November.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)


  1. You know I'm the first one to decry women's treatment by bullying men, but I call this one manslaughter.

  2. When do we draw the line of people taking justice into their own hands?

  3. How do we define killing someone to save our lives?

    Isn't that self-defense?

    If someone who has been beating you threatens they are going to kill you, you have a reason to believe them, and act accordingly.

    Or are we going to ban all self-defensive acts?

  4. Self-defence requires the use of reasonable force. What constitutes a reasonable amount of force depends on various factors, but the defendant does not have the right to determine what constitutes "reasonable force" because the defendant would always maintain they acted reasonably and thus would never be guilty.

    It may in some cases be only sensible and clearly possible to take some simple avoiding action. Others may require actual violence to counter the threat, but the force used to counter that threat should be in proportion to the threat.

    If there is some relatively minor attack it would not be common sense to permit some action of retaliation which was wholly out of proportion to the necessities of the situation.

  5. In my view, setting the bed on fire or hiring a hitman is going too far. I realize some women cannot easily get the help they need for various reasons, but before they do something like that, they should try some other means.

  6. I agree generally mikeb, that women - or anyone - who is abused should try other means to end that abuse than violence.

    However, the more I read the available material, particularly the studies, on domestic violence in the families of law enforcement, and the lack of assistance to those victims that is ....... incomprehensible in terms of how it cuts them off from the usual remedies for assistance, you have to realize they just DON'T have the same alternatives that the general public has. It is unfair and not objective to ignore that in considering what else they could do other than shooting their abuser.

    There did not appear to be any dispute that the husband who was killed in this instance HAD specifically, been threatening he was going to kill his wife or that at the time he was killed he had been acting aggressively.

    The findings were very specific that she was in fear of being killed THEN and there. This wasn't a case of waiting until he fell asleep and shooting him while he was not behaving aggressively. He appears to have been an active threat.

    Where the possibility of a murder charge came into it appears to have been that she had prepared for that eventuality by putting one of her husband's firearms where she could get at it easily IF and when he next acted in a threatening manner, planning for her defense against him.

    That doesn't seem to me to meet the criteria for either murder or manslaughter, but rather planning for self-defense.

    Do you see the distinction that I'm making here? I think we fundamentally agree about not taking the law into your own hands, and that one should leave rather than shoot someone. But the threat here was specifically that he was going to kill her if she did try to leave and if she didn't go on vacation with him as he had ordered her to do.

  7. Tell me this were can we draw the line between insane & crazy.