Entries in Battered-Woman (2)


Two Battered Wives, Two Confessed Murders, Two Women Now Free

Jeffrey Hamilton/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two women, who in separate cases confessed to killing their husbands and made headlines for their sensational murder trials, were freed just one day apart after they each employed a controversial and difficult defense, claiming that years of abuse led them to murder.

Barbara Sheehan, a New York City school secretary, who admitted shooting her police officer husband 11 times with two of his own pistols, was acquitted of murder Thursday, after claiming she had been abused for years and feared for her life on the morning of Feb. 18, 2008.

On Friday, Gaile Owens of Memphis walked out of the Tennessee prison cell where she's been held since being convicted in 1985 of hiring a stranger to kill her husband. After 26 years of appeals from death row, Owens was paroled when new evidence that she had been the victim of sustained domestic abuse was revealed.

Both cases were critical tests of the so-called battered-woman defense, in which attorneys argue that a history of abuse led their clients to kill.

Legal experts say the battered-woman defense is a tough case to make for attorneys.

"It's not easy. A battered-woman defense is always an uphill climb," defense attorney Gloria Allred, who didn't represent either woman, told ABC News. "There are a lot of questions her lawyers are going to need to answer for the jury. Why didn't she report the abuse? Did she tell anyone?"

Allred said juries are often unsympathetic to women they believe should have left their husbands sooner, rather than turn to murder later.

Owens, whose death penalty conviction was reduced to life in prison last year, was granted parole last week, and she walked free Friday. At her 1985 trial, she did not talk about being physically and sexually abused by her husband, claiming later she didn't want to expose her young sons to the truth about their father.

On Thursday, a jury acquitted Barbara Sheehan of murder, but convicted of her of illegal possession of a firearm.

"There's no joy today," Sheehan's attorney Michael Dowd told reporters outside the courthouse. "The only thing that can bring joy to this family would be to bring them back 17 years before the first blow was struck."

Sheehan admitted to shooting her husband after a fight in which he threatened her if she did not accompany him on a trip to Florida. Sheehan claimed she had been seriously beaten on a trip a few months earlier to Jamaica and was reluctant to leave her home.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said neither side could claim victory and called on battered woman to go to authorities when they are first abused.

In 2010, a New York woman accused of murdering her husband successfully used the battered woman defense and was acquitted. Shanique Simmons had been routinely abused by her husband and was even raped, she testified. Simmons stabbed her unarmed husband in the hallway of their Bronx apartment, but claimed self defense.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wife Shoots Cop-Husband 11 Times, Claims Self-Defense

AbleStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Nearly 20 years of daily insults, threats and physical abuse that allegedly left her with countless bruises and a broken nose ended for Barbara Sheehan in 2008 when she shot her police officer-husband 11 times.

She told police it was self-defense.

Sheehan, a mother of two and a school secretary from Queens, N.Y., is on trial for murder. Experts say the trial could be a critical test for the so-called battered-woman defense in which attorneys argue a history of abuse ultimately leads their defendants to kill.

On Monday, Sheehan took the stand and said her decision to shoot her husband, retired cop Raymond Sheehan, as he shaved in his bathroom on the morning of Feb. 18, 2008, was about self-defense and not about cold-blooded revenge.

"I knew he was positively going to kill me," Sheehan testified. "He would always chase me and catch me. So I knew he would catch me. So I shot the gun. I don't know how many times I shot. I just fired. I stopped firing when I didn't feel threatened anymore. I grabbed the guns, closed the door and ran downstairs."

In a 2008 interview with ABC News, Sheehan, who at the time had been released on $1-million bail, described an allegedly horrific beating she sustained while on vacation in 2007 with her husband.

"The walls in the hotel were like cinder block and he kept banging my face into it until my head cracked open. There was blood all over the room, and I wound up in the hospital on the island of Jamaica," she told ABC News.

But it was on the eve of another vacation that led to Raymond Sheehan's death, Barbara testified Monday. That morning the couple fought over whether Barbara would accompany Raymond to Florida. Fearing a similar incident like the one in Jamaica, Sheehan said she refused, but Raymond put a gun to her head.

Sheehan fled to a friend's house, but later returned to the home to find an angry Raymond in the bathroom. Fearing the worst, she picked up one of the two guns her husband kept at home, she said, "thinking maybe he wouldn't shoot me if I had the gun."

Raymond, whom she testified kept a gun on him at all times, even in the bathroom, emerged with his pistol and "he said he was going to kill me."

"So I shot the gun I had in my hand. He had the big gun, I had the little gun. I don't know how many times I shot it. I couldn't aim it. I just shot. I never shot a gun before," she said.

Wounded but still alive, she said, Raymond slumped to the ground and reached for his gun. She grabbed it from him, she testified, and emptied it into her husband.

"I didn't intend to kill him," she said. "I just wanted him to stop and not kill me."

Sheehan said she could never go to the police because Raymond was a former NYPD officer and told her no one would ever help her.

Prosecutors say Raymond Sheehan was a devoted father, husband and police officer. In cross-examination Monday, they called all accusations of abuse "alleged" and repeatedly mentioned that Sheehan had "shot and killed" her husband.

Sheehan's 25-year-old daughter was to testify Tuesday in her mother's defense.

Legal experts say the battered-women's defense is a tough case to make for attorneys.

While prosecutors, she said, will try to defuse her argument, she has to prove that a reasonable battered wife of a cop would have felt threatened enough to commit the crime and that she had no other options at the time.

In 2010, a New York woman accused of murdering her husband successfully used the battered-woman defense and was acquitted. Shanique Simmons had been routinely abused by her husband and was even raped, she testified. Simmons stabbed her unarmed husband in the hallway of their Bronx apartment, but claimed self-defense.

Calls by ABC News to prosecutors and Sheehan's attorney were not immediately returned.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio