Entries in Self-Defense (3)


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


Teen Kills Uncle’s Attacker, Unaware It’s His Dad

Comstock/Thinkstock(EDGEWOOD, Wash.) -- A teenage boy unwittingly stabbed his own father to death while trying to protect his uncle outside his home, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said.

The fight started when a 47-year-old man showed up at an Edgewood, Washington residence and, according to police, began beating his 46-year-old brother with a crowbar in the driveway.

When two teenager brothers in the home looked outside and saw their uncle being attacked, they ran to help him, ABC affiliate KOMO-TV in Seattle reports. The 17-year-old boy stabbed the attacker several times, not knowing it was his own father, who was estranged from the family, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Mike Blair told KOMO-TV.

Both men were rushed to area hospitals with serious injuries and, according to KOMO-TV, the boy’s father died hours later from his stab wounds.

The teen was not taken into custody.

“He was standing up for the safety of his uncle -- it just so happened that it ended up being his father who was killed,” Blair said, adding, “certainly we would allow a member of our community to protect somebody who’s being feloniously assaulted, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.

“Based on the circumstances…we were comfortable that this person is not a danger to the rest of society,” he said.

Blair said it will ultimately be up to the prosecutor to decide whether to file charges against the teen, KOMO reports, but said the facts, so far, show the teen was just trying to defend his uncle.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Self-Defense or Murder?: Oklahoma Case Sparks Debate

Comstock/Thinkstock(OKLAHOMA CITY) -- A story of crime and punishment that is dividing an Oklahoma community has now entered the online world, raising questions about what is self-defense and first-degree murder.

The debate stems from the life sentence an Oklahoma City, Okla., jury handed down to pharmacist Jerome Ersland on May 26 for a first-degree murder conviction in the killing of 16-year-old Antwun Parker.

Ersland's attorneys told jurors throughout the murder trial that their client had acted in self-defense when he shot Parker six times during an attempted robbery at his Oklahoma City pharmacy. Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued Ersland went too far.

Defense attorney Irven Box asked jurors to close their eyes and imagine what they would do in the same situation.

After 3.5 hours of deliberation, the jury -- eight women and four men -- recommended a life sentence.

In the days since the verdict, an outpouring of support erupted in Ersland's hometown of Oklahoma City, with calls for Oklahama Gov. Mary Fallin to commute the local man's sentence.

"I'm gonna spend the rest of my career, however long it may be, trying to right this wrong," one prominent supporter, Oklahoma State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R), told ABC News.

Ersland, 59, had been hailed as a hero for protecting two co-workers during the May 19, 2009, robbery attempt at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City.

Dramatic surveillance video of the attempted burglary shows Parker and an accomplice running into the pharmacy in the crime-ridden neighborhood and pointing a gun directly at Ersland. The video then shows Ersland, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel, firing a pistol at the two men, hitting Parker with one shot that knocked him to the ground. After chasing Parker's accomplice out of the store, Ersland retrieved a second gun and returned to shoot Parker five more times, 46 seconds after firing the first shot.

Ersland's lawyer told ABC News that the pharmacist saw Parker moving and thought he was still alive, and still a threat.

Now the debate over his sentencing has taken to Facebook, with pages both for and against Ersland's punishment, and Twitter, where posts and tweets have been just as divided. One Facebook page supporting Ersland has more than 2,000 followers, while other groups say his punishment is deserved. Facebook pages such as "Free Jerome Ersland" and "Pardon for Jerome Ersland" have also sparked petition sites with goals of sending more than 5,000 signatures to Gov. Fallin.

But any action by the governor on the case will not be soon. First, Ersland must go before the judge in the case, Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott, on July 11, for sentencing. The judge could suspend part or all of the life term. If he chooses to uphold the jury's full suggestion, Ersland will not be eligible for parole for another 38 years and three months.

Jurors had the option of finding Ersland guilty of first-degree manslaughter instead of murder, or of acquitting him.

Ersland's attorneys have vowed to appeal the murder conviction of their client, and have also asked that the formal sentencing be rescheduled for as soon as possible.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio