By Patricia Adams
This week The Forum brings you an exclusive interview with Barbara Sheehan, who is charged in the shooting death of her husband, retired NYPD Sgt. Raymond Sheehan.
Sheehan and her attorney, Michael Dowd, speak candidly about his murder, and how a judge’s recent decision could destroy their defense strategy.
The mother of two has been free on $1 million bail since the February 2008 shooting at the family’s Howard Beach home and is expected to stand trial in early 2010.
For the first time the defense speaks about questionable behavior by attorneys for the prosecution and discusses how the judge’s disapproval of Dowd’s tactics may affect the case.
The murder sent shockwaves through the quiet community but has since faded from the headlines. However, a recent decision by the judge in the case has thrust the story back into the news.
“We’re in trouble.” That is how defense attorney Michael Dowd describes what he terms the devastating consequences of the decision handed down by Justice Arthur Cooperman which will prohibit the testimony of expert witnesses in establishing the post traumatic stress disorder and battered woman’s syndrome defense in the murder trial of his client, Barbara Sheehan.
In the decision handed down on November 10, Cooperman cited “defense counsel’s disregard of this Court’s orders,” and “transparent excuses for delay and for disrupting a July 28 interview.” But Dowd says those claims are absolutely not true. “We went a long way to try to get the information about this case and the history to the psychologist. I personally spoke to Barbara’s family and friends urging them to cooperate by speaking with the prosecution psychologist, Dr. Kathy Yates,” he said.
Dowd explained further that there was some hesitancy at first because prosecution attorney Debra Pomodore had stated to a neighbor that Barbara was a murderer and that her children were liars. “Despite word of the prosecution’s comments, all of the family, including Barbara’s parents and both of her kids still agreed to speak with Dr. Yates,” said Dowd.
That interview, scheduled for July 28, is now a hotbed of controversy because of a series of events that occurred during the course of the day, subsequently causing the collapse of the process and leading to the “emotional breakdown” of Sheehan. The judge attributed the disturbances to Michael Dowd’s actions on that day, but the attorney says he wasn’t even there until after twelve noon.
“That morning my associate, Niall Giollabhui was there with Barbara. I was to get there later. He was checking out the rooms where the interviews were going to take place. He saw Debra Pomodore sit down on the couch and start talking to Barbara. That violates the disciplinary rules — no attorney is supposed to engage another’s client in conversation, especially an adversary,” said Dowd.
When the attorney crossed the room to find out what was going on, Pomodore told him she was just asking Barbara what she wanted for lunch. Barbara Sheehan didn’t wait long to tell her attorney what had happened.
“I told Niall she [Pomodore] was lying. What she said to me on that couch was “I want you to do your best in there. I know you are a very religious woman and you’re going to tell the truth because you’re so religious. I know you’ll tell the truth and it will all come out,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan continued, “I knew what she was doing. She had never even said hello to me in the courtroom. She never even acknowledged me and now she was talking to me this way... She was using some interrogation techniques... To me she was saying that I had been lying all along and now was the time when I could tell the truth.”
Barbara Sheehan described the encounter with Pomodore and her assistant Donna Aldea as what upset her so deeply on that day. “They’re saying it’s Mr. Dowd’s fault. But he had nothing to do with it. If anything he calmed me down. What caused problems that day was the behavior of Debbie Pomodore and Aldea.”
Sheehan qualified her remarks, “She started to talk loudly walking up and down the hallway — listen, she was saying, this has to get done here today. The room wasn’t ready and the camera was not set up.”
According to Barbara Sheehan, prosecutor Debbie Pomodore was acting wildly. Sheehan went on to say that Pomodore’s rant set her on edge.
“By the time I finally got in with Dr. Yates, I was physically sickened. I broke down with the first question she asked me. I asked permission to go to the bathroom. Aldea, Debbie Pomodore’s assistant was there and followed me to the bathroom. I wanted to be alone in the bathroom; to wash my face and compose myself. But she came right up behind me. I sat there in the stall to be by myself but when I came out she was just standing there waiting for me.”
Prior to the interview there was an abundance of psychological testing conducted by experts hired by Sheehan’s defense team. A judge’s order forced them to share all notes from such interviews with the prosecution prior to trial. “I fought that order because that was in the best interest of my client, but in the end the judge ruled and we had to turn over all the notes. Of course we complied,” explained Dowd.
Now Dowd says he is faced with the monumental task of coming up with a defense that will offer his client what he says is everyone’s entitlement. A fair trial.
At the heart of the objections from the defense team is the fact that the prosecution has all the benefit of the expert testimony from the notes that were provided them however, the same experts will not have the opportunity to explain the complex and dark details of Battered Woman’s Syndrome to a jury of Sheehan’s peers.
“We are not going to get any abuse victims on the jury," Dowd predicted. "The average person could not possibly know the level of sickness that is associated with the abusers and those they batter. Because of this and because the criminal process does not allow for an appeal before a guilty verdict is rendered by a jury, Barbara could very well end up in jail while waiting for an appeal. She simply doesn’t belong there.”
In next week’s edition we will explore the circumstances leading up to the murder, including years of documented battering Sheehan endured, as well as the events of the February 2008 morning when she shot her husband.