By Karen Matthews
NEW YORK — A school secretary who was acquitted of murder but convicted of a weapon charge after shooting her husband, a former police sergeant, 11 times with his own guns was sentenced to prison Thursday in a sensational case that cast a spotlight on domestic violence.
Barbara Sheehan was sentenced to five years. She is free pending her appeal.
The 50-year-old petite mother of two had said she shot in self-defense after her husband of 24 years, retired New York Police Department 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 grabbed his loaded revolver from the bedroom while he was in the bathroom shaving, a loaded Glock by his side on the vanity. She emptied the revolver, then picked up the Glock and fired six shots. Raymond Sheehan died in the bathroom.
Jurors, nine women and three men, found the wife guilty of a weapons charge for using the Glock. She was found not guilty of a second weapon charge for using the revolver.
The case became a referendum on so-called battered women's syndrome and whether such a woman would be capable of getting out of a nasty relationship. The not guilty verdict came as a surprise. Domestic violence experts say battered women accused of killing their partners in self-defense are convicted at about the same rate as others accused of murder.
In weeping, fraught testimony, Sheehan told of her years of abuse, testifying she was too fearful and broken-down to leave him and was too scared to call for help. Her children, Jennifer, 25, and Raymond, 21, also gave emotional testimony on their home life, saying they walked on eggshells around their father, always worried about when he would crack and take out his anger on their mother. Sgt. 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 testimony was fabricated to protect their mother, and they, too, lived charmed lives. Pomodore flashed photos of the family on vacations, smiling in bathing suits.
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. 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."
The shooting was touched off over a fight about vacation. The couple planned a trip to Florida, but Barbara Sheehan decided she didn't want to go, she'd had enough, she was going to leave him. She had a secret stash of cash that she kept in her bra during the day and in her underwear drawer at night. According to her testimony, she wasn't acting rationally. He put a gun to her head, they argued, and she briefly fled to a friend's house, but returned to collect the cash and tried to say she was running out for dog food.
But Raymond Sheehan wasn't going to let her leave again, she testified. He was shaving, his 9 mm semi-automatic Glock by his side. Barbara Sheehan grabbed the .38-caliber revolver from the bedroom and fired, she testified. Then she fired from the Glock.
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Copyright 2011 Associated Press