On October 12, 2011, Barbara Sheehan, the 50 year old Queens mother charged in the shooting death of her husband Raymond Sheehan, was acquitted by a Queens County jury of 2nd degree murder but convicted on a gun possession charge. The case achieved both national and international notoriety as a test of the “battered woman” defense, by which the defendant claims to have committed a violent act due to fear for her life.
The shooting occurred on February 18, 2008 in their Howard Beach, New York residence. Ms. Sheehan shot her husband 5 times using a .38 revolver. When Mr. Sheehan reached for, and then lost control of his 9 mm Glock, Ms. Sheehan grabbed that weapon before he could retrieve it and shot him an additional 6 times.
Ms. Sheehan’s defense was premised on a 17 year history of both physical and verbal abuse by her ex-police sergeant husband, who she alleges committed acts including throwing boiling hot pasta sauce at her, smashing a phone in her face, and locking her out of the house in freezing weather in her pajamas. Sheehan’s daughter Jennifer testified that her father abused her mother for years, and after the verdict, stated that even if her mother had to spend some time in prison, “she’s safe…he was going to kill her.” Raymond Sheehan Jr. called his father an abusive monster who would eventually kill their mother.
The prosecution’s focus appears to have been on the fact that Ms. Sheehan never attempted to leave her husband before the shooting, went on family vacations with him, and killed her husband to end a miserable marriage utilizing the battered woman defense to elude prison. The jury deliberated for three days, and at one point, they claimed that they were “hopelessly deadlocked”, leading to the possibility of a mistrial. However, using what is known generically (and more specifically in the federal Courts), as the “Allen charge”, the judge instructed the jury to reexamine their opinions and try to reach a unanimous verdict. It is likely that the 9 woman, 3 man jury finally reached a compromise by acquitting on the much more serious murder charges and convicting on the illegal weapons possession charge.
Apparently, the jury was of the opinion that Mr. Sheehan was seriously wounded after the initial five bullets struck him, and was not a threat to her safety when she fired another six bullets from the Glock. However, if Ms. Sheehan’s accounting of events was accepted by the jury, it is hard to fathom how a violent abuser reaching for his Glock would not be a threat to her safety.
Ms. Sheehan could have faced anywhere from 15 years to a maximum of life in prison on the second degree murder charge under Section 125.25 of the Penal Law of the State of New York, which is an A1 felony. On the criminal possession of a weapon charges, she will likely be sentenced to approximately three years in prison. Although she had been free on one million dollars bail, Ms. Sheehan was immediately taken into custody after the verdict. This was somewhat surprising, since having relinquished her passport, she is not a flight risk, she has apparently appeared for all Court appearances, and has ties to the community, including her two children in Queens. Her attorney has indicated his intention to file an appeal of the gun possession charge, and Ms. Sheehan is due back in Court for sentencing on November 10, 2011.
If you or a loved one is charged with a felony, misdemeanor or a violation, contact the Westchester County Criminal Defense Lawyers online or toll free at 914-224-3086 for a free initial consultation to discuss your legal rights and potential options to fight the charges against you.