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Cranky Cuss

Cranky Cuss
Ossining, New York, United States
February 28
I am the author of "Send In the Clown Car: The Road to the White House 2012," currently available on Amazon and CreateSpace. I'm currently semi-retired after 23 years in a corporate environment. My motto: The conventional wisdom has too much convention, not enough wisdom. Corollary: Even Einstein was wrong sometimes, and you're not Einstein.


SEPTEMBER 26, 2011 12:43PM

Prosecuting a Murder? Or Defending Abuse?

Rate: 25 Flag


Many people have a visceral dislike for defense attorneys.  Mention the attorneys for O.J. Simpson or Casey Anthony, and these people will spit.  They wonder how these lawyers can sleep at night after a day spent defending a scumbag.


But sometimes prosecutors defend scumbags too.


That’s the impression I got this morning after reading an article in The New York Times about Queens’ prosecution of Barbara Sheehan, who murdered her husband Raymond on February 28, 2008, shooting him 11 times while he was shaving.  She claims to have suffered from battered woman syndrome. There has been testimony that Sheehan, an NYPD crime scene investigator, showed his wife crime scene photos as a threat. There has been testimony about his strange and humiliating sexual demands.


All of their children have testified to his abusive behavior.  Their daughter Jennifer testified about a time when her father punched her mother in the face while they were stuck in traffic.  She further testified that she skipped his funeral and only attended the wake to make sure he was dead. Their son Raymond testified that he decided to attend college out-of-state because being too close to home might have driven him to suicide. Their son-in-law and Mrs. Sheehan’s co-workers are slated to testify about the abuse next week.


I have no idea how much of their testimony is true.  However, reading the prosecution case, I was disturbed by the realization that prosecutors were using the exact same arguments that a defense attorney defending a man accused of domestic violence would use.


Prosecutor Debra Pomodore downplayed the danger to Mrs. Sheehan.  According to the Times, she argued, “Of the nearly four million women abused each year by their husbands in the United States, only 500 to 600 killed them.” 


Only?  If a defense attorney for a domestic abuser had made that argument, prosecutors would have snorted at his callousness. 


The prosecution has also tried to portray Sheehan as a loving husband, displaying a photo of the couple imitating the famous World War II Times Square photo while on vacation the year before the murder.


This would have been a central piece of evidence in a domestic abuser’s defense.  The prosecution would have pointed out that of course there had been moments of happiness during a 25-year marriage, even in the months leading up to the murder.  They also would have argued that a battered woman would have been too intimidated to deny her husband’s request to pose for a picture. 


Pomodore, who called battered woman syndrome a pseudoscience, also questioned why Mrs. Sheehan didn’t leave or call the police.  But battered woman syndrome is accepted as a defense almost everywhere. “Jacquelyn C. Campbell,” according to the Times, “an expert witness on domestic violence from Johns Hopkins University, likened an abused woman to a dog who receives a shock every time it tries to leave a cage, eventually remaining frozen in place, even when the cage door is left opened.”  If Queens had been prosecuting a domestic abuser, someone like Ms. Campbell would have been their expert witness. 


The prosecution has also made a big deal of Mr. Sheehan’s insurance policy and the amount of money the family received from it.  However, the checks entered into evidence showed them paying off debts like home equity loans, not buying fancy cars or taking family vacations.


According to legal experts quoted by the Times, the legal barrier for Ms. Sheehan’s defense is high.  It’s not enough for her to claim years of abuse, they say, but rather she has to have felt in imminent danger.


So it may be true that Mrs. Sheehan may have shaky legal grounds for her murder.  But hearing the prosecution downplay the likelihood and severity of the abuse that has been detailed in the courtroom makes me very uncomfortable. It deepens my belief that a trial is not a search for truth but rather a piece of theater, or a political debate where candidates will say whatever convinces the voter to choose him, no matter what the factual or moral basis of the statements.  It sounds less like the prosecution of a murderer than a defense of a domestic abuser.


It makes me wonder how Ms. Pomodoro sleeps at night.


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crime story, queens, sheehan

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"However, the checks entered into evidence showed them paying off debts like home equity loans, not buying fancy cars or taking family vacations."

Why them stupid bastards., Should have bought fancy cars, took family vacations, killed off a few aunts and uncles just to make it look like a Mob hit.

That's what I would do!!

~Shakes head and hits rate~
They're pulling a hatchet job on the wife of a man who, in colloquial terms, "was one of their own." In their point of view, even though he's a Crime Scene Investigator, she's a cop killer.

How very state like to defend their own by prosecuting even the wife of an abusive man, as if she were no more than a thug who pulled the trigger on a cop doing his job.

That's my 'gut level' take on this.

"Pomodore, who called battered woman syndrome a pseudoscience, also questioned why Mrs. Sheehan didn’t leave or call the police. " Go where? Call the police for what? To have someone defend or protect them? Not likely.

The victim isn't safe until the perp is permanently stopped. Since much of society thinks the victim is solely responsible for their own safety and you can't get away with killing them you are never really safe. Unless you're lucky and they find someone else and the abuse gets transferred to the next victim.

Thank you for pointing this out, we have an attitude of defending abusers that goes very deep. I'm not surprised that this victim is blamed by the prosecutors. I'm certain she's not surprised at being blamed either.

Again, thank you for this post.
I think you are right about trials becoming a piece of theater - it goes into the new "reality" we all live in where the cult of personality seems to rule the day. Hope justice is served here, but it doesn't sound likely.
Women usually do not kill the father of their children or the purveyor of the pay check...unless there is abuse or betrayal. Divorce is easier and far less messy. Excellent post.
I'd have killed him, too. This was well worth reading.
Thanks for posting this, Cranky. I think that it is difficult to understand an abused woman's sense of helplessness and depression in situations like that. That is not to question the validity of the psychological components. It is just hard to appreciate the enormous stresses to be living in such an explosive and unpredictable situation.
In theory the truth emerges when each side puts on as vigorous a case as they can. How often does this happen, that each side's skills and preparation balanced each other? I would say not routinely, at least not in high-profile cases. Our jury system is flawed, but I don't know of a better one.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
Truth? In a court of law? Unlikely. Facts? Well, maybe, so long as they don't get in the way of the theatrics. The thing most people don't understand is that *everybody* lies, especially in criminal trials. Cops, prosecutors, defence attorneys, judges, witnesses. It happens all the time.

You're right to hold the prosecution up to scrutiny, and good on you for doing so.
". . a trial is not a search for truth but rather a piece of theater. ."
Indeed. The script changes according to how the tables are turned; and the more hype and promotion, the more attention it will garner. Theatrics is not based on truths and justice; it's how the actors play their roles the most convincingly. Maybe this will be the next trial media frenzy.
So great of you to post this. Some are hip to the fact that prosecutors are rewarded for winning ,and punished for losing. Many don't have a clue and save all scorn for defense attorneys. I've done extensive research on this, and it's astounding how much damage and misery is caused by prosecutors acting in "bad faith."
It is not something that is presented in the media in any meaningful way. Many prosecutors are ruthless politicians who just want to win so they can hold office. Prosecutors have been granted obscene amounts of immunity and there is not accountability for 99.9 percent of the most egregious forms of malpractice and misconduct. Only judges share this "absolute immunity." In short, they can and do get away with murder and there is no accountability.
For every Nifong there is a 1.000 prosecutors that don't get exposed. I'm writing a big fat post on this, as we "speak."

The majority of defense lawyers, without a doubt, are scumbags and they to are protected by lesser immunities(i.e the ineffective assistance of counsel bar is set so low as to be a joke. If their client is convicted they cannot sue them until their conviction is overturned etc.) But, there is still some motivation for them to behave.
The prosecutors in the Sheehan case have one thing in mind: WINNING. It's vile. It's foreign to many of our mentalities, but I"m telling you, something is very wrong with the system as it is. It's nightmarish actually.
Phew. Thanks for this, Cranky.
Rough case. The way it plays out in our courts is not pretty, that's for certain.
Damn you though CC.. brought back the memory of a girl I dated-lived with even for two years. Her previous bf was "murdered, perp never apprehended." Turned out it was her. Shot him dead. Apparently per her it was a similar situation to this, but still she spent some years locked away. His fault, her fault, whatever... I fled!
“Of the nearly four million women abused each year by their husbands in the United States, only 500 to 600 killed them.”

I have lived through abuse and nearly died.. To see something like that makes me want to scream.
Thank you for doing this terrific piece on how all of the scum and villainy in the world is not confined to the bar on Tattooine in "Star Wars." And for giving a much needed man's point of view regarding the issue of domestic abuse.
Seems like everything lately is just posturing and spin. The truth doesn't seem to be a part of any equation anymore.

I'm convinced trial attorneys (prosecutors and defense) view themselves as actors/athletes. I don't know if there was ever a time when winning didn't matter as much as truth, I just believe that finding the truth has ever-increasingly taken a back seat in this age where every moment is "televised."
a most excellent piece. thank you for writing it.

I hate to say it but she did the right thing. he was a detective and that makes him impervious. and there's a history of this is abuse: when a guy goes to the trouble to show you what he's going to do to you if you leave him, he'll usually try to do it. he's got a plan.
Yes, I'd say the language is very disturbing, here. And why is the question always "Why didn't she leave?" rather than "Why did he hit her?"

And that "Only 500--600 killed them" remark? Oooo. makes me MAD. Right, Ms. Pomodoro. I'm sure we can spare those women.

thanks for writing this, Cranky.
Trials are about competition, winning and losing, not about innocence and guilt. That's probably why that execution just took place in Georgia - because the prosecutors didn't want their work questioned.

I used to know a defense attorney in the Washington area who defended murderers regularly. He once told me he hated defending people he actually thought weren't guilty because then he really worried about the result.

You're very right about this case and it's a heads-up observation.
The abuse must have been horrific for it to get to the point where she actually killed him. She clearly thought her life was in danger, and for his kids to hate him so much is another sign of how badly they were all abused. It's sad and scary what goes on, both privately and publicly, in cases like this.
I haven't kept up with this trial, but all trials now are staged productions (for people with money that is) and the winner is usually the one with the biggest dick, if you'll forgive me my language!
Thanks for posting this Cranky. It raises several issues that need to be brought out into the open and raised as a matter of public concern - in my profession I see abused women - emotionally, physically, and sexually and the effects are devastating. To raise another issue - at least in my area - trying to get alternate housing for this women is a joke...Don't get me started.

Thanks again Cranky. As always, eloquent and thoughtful