Years of abuse came down to a single moment: Raymond Sheehan, a retired New York City police officer, pointed a gun at his wife and threatened her life. She grabbed his second gun and fired first. Now, reports Women’s eNews, Barbara Sheehan faces a trial for the 2008 murder of her husband, a man she says battered her regularly and would have killed her. At issue is whether a court order excluding any expert testimony about her abuse will be overturned.
Her attorney, Michael Dowd–who has represented more than 25 women charged with killing their abusers–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. Evidence of battering and its effects began appearing in criminal cases in the late 1970s, and usually involves the introduction of expert psychiatric testimony. In the 1980s, a watershed case ruled that evidence of battering was admissible to help juries assess a defendant’s perception of danger posed by the abuser, as it can help explain not only how a battered person might think, react or behave, but also may place the behavior in an understandable light.