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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

[NYPD] Expert testimony sought as crucial to providing Barbara Sheehan with a fair trial - Women's eNews excerpts


"Barbara Sheehan will soon be on trial in New York for the murder of her husband, a former police officer she says consistently abused her. A key question remains: Will expert testimony about the effects of abuse be allowed?... Sheehan recently talked to Susan Stromberg outside a Queens courtroom about routine marital violence and why she felt she couldn't leave..."

Women's eNews
By Susan V. Stromberg
Monday, July 12, 2010
[Excerpts] Years of abuse came down to a single moment: Raymond Sheehan, a retired New York Police Department officer, pointed a gun at his wife and threatened her life. She grabbed his second gun and fired first. Now, Barbara Sheehan faces 15 years to life in prison for the 2008 murder of her husband, a man she says battered her regularly and would have killed her ... "He would have killed me and my children, and then probably himself." The state of New York has charged her with second-degree murder and two counts of weapons possessions. At issue in Barbara Sheehan's case, in which a trial has not yet been scheduled, is whether a court order excluding any expert testimony about her abuse will be overturned. That order, by the now-retired Justice Arthur Cooperman, is currently under review. Her attorney, Michael Dowd - who has represented more than 25 women charged with killing their abusers in his 40 years of practice - says such evidence is critical to allowing the jury to understand the effects of her years of abuse and the threat she believed she faced the moment she fired the gun ... Barbara Sheehan says she acted in self defense, so under New York State law she must demonstrate to the jury that she believed that she was in imminent danger of deadly physical force and that her belief was reasonable. Expert testimony would be introduced in this case to explain the impact of constant domestic violence, says Dowd. Without that he doubts the jury will be able to place themselves in Barbara Sheehan's position, either to determine the honesty of her fear of imminent danger of being killed or to determine the reasonableness of this belief. The jury will also have questions about why she stayed if she thought her life was in danger or why she believed the last threat was different from any other time, says Dowd ... There is a sense of fear and entrapment particularly acute for women married to abusive police officers, says Diane Wetendorf, an author and consultant on police-perpetrated domestic violence. The unique vulnerability for abused spouses of police officers makes the need for expert psychiatric testimony all the more necessary for a fair trial, she says. Judges and juries are often unaware of the detailed dynamics involved in spousal abuse at the hands of a police officer, adds Wetendorf, which is "critical to understanding the almost impossibility of a spouse escaping and staying safe when the abuser is a law-enforcement officer." It is now up to an appellate division of New York's Supreme Court to determine whether to allow in Barbara Sheehan's trial any expert psychiatric testimony on battering and its effects... [Full article here]

Women's eNews
By Susan V. Stromberg
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
[Excerpts] Barbara Sheehan wanted to leave her husband Raymond many times before the day she ended his life by shooting him with one of the guns she says he often pointed at her. She now faces murder charges in Queens, N.Y., for the slaying of her husband, a retired New York City police officer... The domestic hotlines she was in contact with told her to leave and disappear. "But where do you go?" she asked. "He had a means to find me if I left." Her husband had frequently threatened that there was no place Barbara Sheehan could go where he couldn't find her and that if she ever attempted to leave him, he would kill her family and the couple's children... "I couldn't call 911, he was 911 ... I knew they would never have arrested him," she said. "And then what would happen when they left?"... "Many women have reported to me that they have called shelter after shelter after shelter and been turned away when they hear the abuser is in law enforcement," said [Diane] Wetendorf. Barbara Sheehan says her husband's repeated abuse got progressively worse over the course of their marriage, but that there was a definite turning point that escalated her fear. In a hotel room in Jamaica... [Full article here]

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