Howard Beach Woman Can't Use Battered Women's Defense
By Patricia Adams
Family members and friends filled a courtroom on Tuesday morning in support of Barbara Sheehan, the Howard Beach resident accused in the shooting death of her husband, Raymond, back in February of 2008.
On November 10, Justice Arthur Cooperman handed down a ruling which denies the use, by the defense, of expert testimony to establish a battered woman’s defense. The ruling was handed down because the court stated that Sheehan deliberately missed an interview with a psychologist for the prosecution.
But Sheehan’s team says they never missed the appointment--they informed the court and the prosecution they would not attend because they had not received a decision on a prior appeal they had filed. Tuesday’s hearing was to hear a decision on the motion made by the defense asking that the prior ruling would be overturned — thereby allowing for expert testimony during the trial.
Attorney Michael Dowd stood with his client before Justice Arthur Cooperman, awaiting a decision. After learning that the prosecution had not read the motion, the judge offered a copy of the 30-page document to Assistant District Attorney Debra Pomodore to “peruse”.
A few minutes later, the hope that Cooperman would overturn his November ruling was quickly dashed as he delivered his decision. Cooperman first spoke to Pomodore, “I presume the people are opposed.” After confirmation from the ADA the judge directed two words to Dowd and his client, “motion denied.”
Outside the courtroom Sheehan’s family and supporters remained collected but appeared disappointed. One neighbor shook her head, “I just can’t believe this keeps happening.” But Barbara Sheehan wasn’t surprised at the judge’s decision. “We’ve come back to court at least a dozen times over the last twenty-two months,” she said. “We haven’t gotten one favorable decision in all that time.”
Referring back to Tuesday’s decision by Cooperman, Sheehan said, “He [Cooperman] had the order to deny the motion fully prepared when he came into the courtroom, without even hearing from the prosecution. His mind was made up.”
Barbara Sheehan shrugged her shoulders, “We just keep trying.”
Michael Dowd was not so accepting of Cooperman’s decision. “It is a gross miscarriage of justice to deprive a woman, who, without question, was so violently abused, of her legal and constitutional rights to a fair trial.” Dowd continued to rail at the court’s decision, “To think there will be no expert testimony at the trial — where such testimony is essential to help jurors to really understand domestic abuse — is unprecedented.”
Sheehan’s parents, Mike and Barbara Henry were in the courtroom. “We cry a lot,” said Barbara Henry. We can’t say anything or do anything. It’s very frustrating and terribly upsetting. Nobody wants to hear what really happened.”
Also in the courtroom were Raymond Sheehan’s brother Vincent and sister-in-law Linda. Before the shooting it was Vincent and Linda Sheehan who helped Barbara seek help through a domestic violence hotline. Now the couple sat on the opposite side of the room from the group who came in support of Barbara Sheehan; Vincent and Linda Sheehan engaged in conversation, marked by laughter, with ADA Pomodore.
Although it appears that Justice Cooperman’s latest ruling in the Sheehan case will stand, he will not preside over the trial. Arthur Cooperman will officially retire from the bench at the end of December.
Barbara Sheehan is scheduled to return to court on January 5, 2010. She will appear before Judge Richard L. Buchter, who presided over the Nicholas “Fat Nick” Minucci trial in 2005 in the same Howard Beach community.
Before leaving the courthouse on Tuesday morning Michael Dowd labeled the actions of DA Brown’s office as disingenuous. “They’re hypocrites. This is a DA’s office that acts as though it were the champion of domestic violence. It’s laughable,” said Dowd. “You can’t act this way and engender the respect of the domestic violence community. You just can’t do it.” As for Tuesday’s ruling Dowd said, “It’s just another devastating blow to Barbara Sheehan and to her defense.”