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By September 24, 2011 26 Comments Read More →

Murder trial tests battered woman defense

Barbara Sheehan, of Queens, New York, is on trial for shooting her husband, Raymond Sheehan, a former police officer and crime scene investigator. During hours of testimony, Barbara Sheehan described 20 years of abuse. Her son took the witness stand and backed up her claims.

Read Queens woman testifies she killer her husband in self-defense, on NYTimes.com.

Read Murder trial hinges on questions of domestic abuse, on NYTimes.com

Read Barbara Sheehan’s son testifies at secretary’s murder trial about discovering his father’s affair on NYDailyNews.com.


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26 Comments on "Murder trial tests battered woman defense"

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I think this kind of defense should be on a case by case basis. I don’t think that in every case of abuse self-defense-killing is justified, but in some cases it is.

Unfortunately too many times the victim covers up the abuse to protect the abuser so not very many if any people know about the abuse until it gets pretty violent. Also abuse can turn from emotional to physical quickly.

I woiuld rather be “tried by 12, than carried by 6” but still it is one of those things it is better to run if you can rather than kill them.

The BWD is a “state-of-mind, at-that-time” defense; therefore it is assessed and used case-by-case …not a one-shoe-fits-all defense.

Victims of police husbands keep quiet because it is the safest thing to do (not to cover for him); keeping quiet is about survival.

There is no running from the police abuser-husband, more so with children. I found out the hard way; I ran, he got the kids and continues to stalk (community and through the courts) and hunt me down – whenever his fancy strikes.

New York JUST (yesterday) passed an address confidentiality law, guess who has access to the real address: The police.

The legal (not “justice”) system is not equipped to deal with female victims of long-term severe abuse. The legal system looks at things from a man’s perspectiv­e where hand-to-ha­nd combat and moments of explosive reaction are acceptable in terms of self-defen­se.

Most women, however, cannot engage in hand-to-ha­nd combat with a man to protect themselves­. They MUST have weapons or some other advantage to “even the playing field,” so to speak. And what may seem cold-blood­ed and calculatin­g to many (such as a battered wife killing her husband in his sleep) is actually just as legitimate a means of self-defen­se as hand-to-ha­nd combat because of the power inequity between a man and a woman.

Overkill is common, too, as battered women usually attribute their abusers as having almost god-like omnipotent power. Not to mention if he gets up, he really IS going to kill her.

The courts, however, don’t recognize the tactics battered women take to “even the playing field,” though, and continue to simply view their actions from the accepted perspectiv­e of men.

Firefly and Jofary, you both have EXCELLENT points. Which is why this issue is so “difficult.” It is not uncommon though, for two disordered people to “hook up” together or even sometimes form long term relationships where each “gives as good as they get” to the other…and of course the physical combat “loser” (usually the woman) then turns with a weapon and kills the other. It is NOT always a case of the “Innocent” female victim versus the “bad abusive man” and sometimes it is a case of TWO abusive people fighting it out, so when a woman is legitimately being abused she gets the “bad press” of the (what I call) “co-abusive” woman who calls the cops when her husband is beating her, then turns on the cops when they start to take him away.

I think it is very difficult to distinguish between the legitimately abused trauma-bonded woman (usually a woman, not always!) and the personality disordered who got whipped in the fight and wants to present themselves as an “innocent victim” when in fact, they are simply another psychopath presenting with a PITY PLOY. I’ve had personal experience with observing people doing this so I am drawing on that experience and it may not be universal by any means.

I think though, from MANY comments on LF about PPD people presenting their last wife/husband as “crazy” and “wicked” and themselves as the INNOCENT “victim” of this person, but then in the ultimate end, turn out to be the abusers themselves, shows there is a pattern of sorts here of psychopaths presenting themselves as the “victim” when in fact they are the abuser or Co-abuser– just maybe the “loser” in the current fight.

Thanks for the update on this case, Donna. This is one of the many cases like this that I think it would take the wisdom of Solomon to untangle the stories and find the “totally right” judgment. Even knowing what we know about psychopaths that the judges, attorneys and most public DON’T know, this is one of those cases that I would SURE HATE TO BE ON THE JURY of this one. Frankly, in my case, if my son ever gets out of prison, I may be involved in just such a case…I may end up being the defendant if I am not the victim.

From the testimony at the trial, I have NO doubt that she was in an abusive relationship with this man, and he definitely sounds like a psychopathic abuser. I have read where 75% of domestic abusers would qualify as psychopaths, but actually I think l it is probably higher than that for men like this that have done SERIOUS and VIOLENT abuse (not that all abuse isn’t “serious,” but just meaning on the “far right end” of the curve).

I also look at the case of the couple who kidnapped Jaycee Dugard and held her for nearly two decades. I DO NOT DOUBT that woman (his wife) was a VICTIM of his ABUSE. But…..and here is the squeeze….where does her BEING a victim make her not responsible for what she DID? I have a lot of empathy for MRS. Monster in the Dugard case, but we are back to the questions about “does being an alcoholic excuse you for driving drunk and the consequences of that?” Does being a trauma bonded victim excuse you from the crimes you commit under those circumstances?

Look, for example at Patty Hearst. Patty was a perfect example of a TOTALLY INNOCENT VICTIM, who trauma bonded and then did a crime that she NEVER WOULD HAVE COMMITTED OTHERWISE. I think the jury obviously thought she was responsible and sent her to prison, but she did, due to her family, receive media, pressure and a hearing and was eventually PARDONED. Should she have gone to prison in the first place? What if she had shot and killed someone in that robbery? Would the answer be the same?

Does a person have an absolute right to defend their own life? I think so. If they have a chance to escape and don’t take it (due to trauma bonding or otherwise) then catch the abuser asleep or with their back turned and kill them then? Are they responsible or is it emotional self defense?

There is an old story about a famous gun fighter being shot. There wasn’t any way from the wound to tell if the guy had been shot in the eye socket and it came out the back of his head or if he was shot in the back of the head and it came out the eye socket, so the man who killed him was put on trial.

Various people testified with opinions that the man had killed the gunfighter by shooting him in the back of the head, others that it was the reverse and it was a fair gunfight and the guy was shot in the eye.

The judge decided it this way. If he was shot in the eye it was good shooting. If he was shot in the back of the head it was GOOD SENSE. Case Dismissed.

This story sounds like something right out of Rose Madder, a Stephen King novel. I am glad she was found innocent and hope this case will be a precedent in other similar cases. Even if all abusers are not true sociopaths, there is an aspect of karma involved – reaping what you sow. I don’t think the loss of this man is any great loss to society. I’m also sad for the tragedy she and her kids suffered for so many years. Even though the threat is over, they will likely suffer PTSD and probably even some guilt for years due to the trauma bond. I don’t know if it’s possible to kill someone – no matter who it is – and be unscathed by it.

Oxy, your excellent ethical questions made me think of another Stephen King story, Delores Clayborn, who, after suffering many years of abuse aby her husband and fearing he was starting to sexually abuse their daughter, premeditated his murder and never told anyone. She herself already had found the strength to stand up to him, but she feared for her daughter’s safety if she didn’t find a way to get rid of him. She really did it for her daughter, even though the daughter never trusted her after that, ironically. She pushed her husband into a well and ignored his cries while he was dying. Even though she never went to prison for her crime, she paid dearly by the ostracism of her own daughter and the community. Clearly a story that makes you think about right and wrong. With sociopaths, there are always consequences, and they are never good. (Can you tell I’m a Stephen King fan?)

Stargazer:

I saw that movie Dolores Claiborne with Kathy Bates…it was good.

Star and Louise,

There are consequences to EVERY THING we do….and I know I would defend myself, and am pretty well convinced if my son gets out (and maybe even if he doesn’t) that I WILL HAVE TO DEFEND myself. That being said, And even though I have made up my mind if it comes to “me or him” I will do what I have to to defend my own life, none-the-less, I imagine if I were forced into a gunfight with him, (or anyone else for that matter) even if I “won” I would be traumatized emotionally.

My son D and I watched the movie with Nicholas Cage “Code Talkers” about the Navajos who were code “talkers” during WWII in the fight with the Japanese. Cage was assigned to stay with them and if one of them was captured Cages orders were to kill the code talker so that they couldn’t be tortured to give up the CODE which was so important. One of the code talkers was captured and Cage was forced to kill the man, and even though he was following orders, and even though he knew that killing his fellow American, his fellow marine, was IMPORTANT to keep the rest of the marines safe, it ate at Cage’s character. Another one of the code talkers was angry at Cage for what he had done, but came to understand that Cage had no choice for the good of the rest of the marines.

The movie showed many men in combat against mine fields, guns, cannons, air bombing, and hand to hand combat, etc. and as I watched those battles, I wondered how ANYONE could see so much carnage and remain sane?

I worked as a volunteer fire fighter and emergency responder for 13 years and I have mopped up people off the highway with sponges and though I am medically trained, have participated in emergency events multiple times, still….it leaves a memory, and some more than others. I can’t even imagine how I would have reacted to the plane crash if I had not been medically trained.

I used to be FOR the death penalty in some murder cases, but have thought long and hard about that in the last few years and due to the CHANCE (however remote) of executing an innocent person I ahve changed my mind about it. I have also thought LONG AND HARD about cases such as this, and I have come to the conclusion that I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWERS ANY MORE….I NOW REALIZE don’t know even ALL the QUESTIONS any more either. I never did know all the answers or questions, but I thought I did….now I realize the more I learn the more I realize the amount of stuff I DO NOT KNOW. Each new thing I learn raises more new questions about what is ethical and what is right or wrong.

Because there is a better than even chance I think that I may one day find myself in that woman’s shoes, only it will be my SON, not my husband that is the threat to my life, I have given this situation a LOT OF THOUGHT. I am probably as “scared” of my psychopathic son as she was of her husband, and I know for a fact that my P son did try to have me killed, and that he personally DID kill a young woman in cold blood, so my fear is “justified” as well, but again, it is against the law to kill someone who is not an INSTANT threat to you.

For a while there was (I’m not sure if it is still valid) a law in Colorado called the “make my day” law where if someone threatened to harm you, you could take “preemptive action” and it was SELF DEFENSE.

Following definition taken from Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_doctrine

A Castle Doctrine (also known as a Castle Law or a Defense of Habitation Law) is an American legal doctrine arising from English common law[1] that designates one’s place of residence (or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as one’s car or place of work) as a place in which one enjoys protection from illegal trespassing and violent attack. It then goes on to give a person the legal right to use deadly force to defend that place (his “castle”), and any other innocent persons legally inside it, from violent attack or an intrusion which may lead to violent attack. In a legal context, therefore, use of deadly force which actually results in death may be defended as justifiable homicide under the Castle Doctrine.

Castle Doctrines are legislated by state though not all states in the US have a Castle Doctrine law. The term “Make My Day Law” comes from the landmark 1985 Colorado statute that protects people from any criminal charge or civil suit if they use force ”“ including deadly force ”“ against an invader of the home. Colorado isn’t well known for heightened crime but it is a well populated state. [2] The law’s nickname is a reference to a line uttered by Clint Eastwood’s character Harry Callahan in the 1983 film Sudden Impact, “Go ahead, make my day.”

In my state recently a man shot (but did not kill) a guy who was OUTSIDE his house stealing gasoline out of his car as the man ran away when he saw the man was at home, and this was determined by the police to NOT be “self defense” since the man was running away at the time he was shot, and the robber was not a danger to PERSON, only to property.

There was another recent event where a burglar was shot and killed when he broke into a state trooper’s home to try to rob it. (bad decision on the part of the would be burglar).

All I can say about this woman’s case, though, is I hope the judge takes into consideration her state of mind when s/he sentences her. This woman is most likely NOT a threat to society at large, but at the same time, she took someone’s life when there WERE other alternatives, even if she didn’t see them at the time. I also hope that the publicity of this case will encourage other women or men who are involved with psychopathic abusers to WAKE UP, SMELL THE COFFEE AND GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN! I pray that God gives the judge wisdom.

Tennessee woman released after 25 years on death row for killing her husband during constant physical abuse:

http://news.yahoo.com/tennessee-woman-released-25-years-death-row-162640334.html

After five and a half months no contact, I am here to tell you that if you are in an abusive relationship, be it emotionally, psychologically or physically, GET OUT NOW.

After 9 years of a relationship, the past five have been a complete nightmare and the past five and half months has been a complete release. At this point in time, I can honestly say that I am HAPPY I LEFT IT BEHIND ME.

I am starting to SEE MYSELF AGAIN after all this time.
I am starting to touch, taste, feel and witness MY life.
GOD BLESS THIS POOR WOMAN for all she has been through.

We need MORE understanding and compassion like the Governor of Tennessee has shown. THANK YOU MR. GOVERNOR!

By the way – HI EVERYONE!!!!
I love you all.

Thank you for being in my corner.
LF has opened my eyes and my heart and my brain and given me a new and different understanding of LIFE. 🙂

You are all in my love, thoughts and prayers…

Dupey

Here is an article from The UK about a man “arrested” for stabbing an armed intruder….he was cleared a month later….read what the man is going through though. PTSD at the least!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2046358/Vincent-Cooke-Man-stabbed-suspected-burglar-death-cleared-murder-charge.html

Louise, the book is much better. And if you happen to get addicted to his writing style as I did, read Rose Madder. Story of a really evil cop-psychopath who stalks his wife and how she finally kills him. Now that I think about it, these ethical questions have been addressed in many books and films. Does anyone remember Slingblade?

Oxy, I have NO problem whatsoever with anyone killing to save their life. In fact, I believe that even a premeditated murder against a sociopath should be considered self-defense, because as long as they are alive, they will be destroying someone somewhere. But how horrible it must be to even be put in that position.

Oxy:

I have never believed in the death penalty. My stance on it has always been this: Murder is wrong, immoral, illegal, etc. so why would I believe in killing someone even though they killed someone else? That never made any sense to me so I was never able to support the death penalty.

Stargazer:

Oh, I want to read Rose Madder now…sounds really good! I love thrillers. Slingblade? Loved that movie, too. I’ve seen it more than once. Billy Bob Thornton was excellent in that role.

So true…the spaths will be destroying someone somewhere as long as they are alive.

Slingblade was very disturbing to me….Rose madder was as well. I don’t like many of Stephen King’s books, Cujo was one I did like though, as it was “possible.”

Yes, those ethical questions have been asked in literature for centuries if not thousands of years, and I am not sure there will ever be a complete answer.

What is “self defense” is somewhat debatable and the laws in various countries and states vary, so just be sure what the laws in your area are and do your best to abide by them and stay safe at the same time and be able to live with your actions, whatever they are.

Duped, glad to hear you’re doing well. 🙂

thanks for the link. will read more on it

Not to hijack this discussion, but I have a penchant for disturbing movies. I’m sure it’s all the Scorpio in my chart. In fact, I’m going to see the sequel to The Human Centipede this weekend even though I had nightmares for weeks after seeing the first one. (Caution: Do NOT watch the trailer for this movie if you have a weak stomach). Probably only one in 500 people would ever be drawn to seeing a movie like that. And we will all be at the midnight showing tomorrow, forsaking our sleep for it.

And be warned, Louise, Rose Madder is very disturbing and hard to read, especially at the beginning.

Sorry for the hijack.

Stargazer:

Oh, no worries…I watch horror movies, disturbing movies a lot. OK…I know this sounds weird…don’t you all get scared out there in LF Land! People are always surprised when they find out I like horror movies or disturbing movies, but I do. I guess it’s just because I am a deep thinker and those types of movies always make me think about whatever they are trying to portray.

Wait a minute…Star…now we also like disturbing movies?…we are twins!

Louise, you would really be my twin if you liked The Human Centipede. The sequel just came out and I can’t wait to see it. This is probably the most disturbing movie of all time, but it’s also considered a black comedy. It has a cult following, and there is a lot of laughter in the theater at the midnight showing.

I received the DVD for my 50th birthday and had a showing with my friends. They all were nearly throwing up. But when I asked if they wanted to stop watching, they said NO! It’s that compelling – you have to watch to find out how it ends. The main character is about the most evil sociopath you can imagine. You are trying to imagine how the movie could end and if there could ever be a happy ending. There can’t and there isn’t. It will haunt you for a long time.

Okay, the hijack is in full force right now….**hangs head in shame**

Stargazer:

Oh, I want to see that movie! I seriously can’t believe I had not heard of it before, but I just looked it up online and I can’t wait…I know, I’m sick!! 🙂 I guess I’ll have to rent them…obviously they do not show these in my city. Not sure why…I live in a big enough city. Maybe I can check it out on the IFC channel on cable if it comes on there.

Louise, you have to see the first one before you see the sequel. Do you watch the trailer? It’s great if you happen to be on a diet because you probably won’t be able to eat for a few days after watching. lol

Too bad you don’t live in Denver. You could just come over and watch it.

Stargazer:

Yeah, that’s why I said I will need to rent them…probably both of them as I have not seen any sightings of the sequel showing in my city. I would love to be able to see it with you…too bad I am not there 🙁

I didn’t watch the trailer. I will do it here soon and report back!

Stargazer:

I watched both trailers. The first one was actually worse to me than the second one. I read that Tom Six is working on the third and final sequence and said it will make the second one look like a Disney movie! Wow!!

Whoa. I’m going to see the second one tomorrow. I’ll let you know how I liked it, but I’ll try not to spoil it for you. I hadn’t heard about the third one. I don’t even know if *I* have a strong enough stomach for that! I will say that the evil doctor did an incredible acting job. If it were a mainstream movie, he would have won an academy award easily. Let me know when you have seen the first one, so we can “discuss” it. I’m not around much, but I’ll look for you on here or send you my email via Donna. You can also download the movie on your computer. My friend in Jamaica did it. She’s the only other person I know who is into it.

Stargazer:

Oh, yeah, I could just download it, but I like seeing things on a bigger screen, but I might still do that. I will most likely rent the first one. I can’t wait…I’m a sicko! You can send your email via Donna if you want. I can’t wait to hear how you like the second one…thanks!

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