As the jurors filtered into a dimly lit courtroom situated above the constant hum of traffic on Queens Boulevard last week, many glanced the way of Barbara Sheehan — the Howard Beach woman for whom they will decide whether she pumped 11 bullets into her ex-cop husband in self defense, as her attorney argues, or as a calculated “execution,” as the prosecution says.
Sitting with her hands clasped in front of a massive gathering of family and friends sporting purple domestic violence awareness ribbons, Sheehan is charged with shooting and killing Raymond Sheehan, a retired NYPD sergeant, on the morning of Feb. 18, 2008, after nearly two decades of abuse.
While Sheehan’s attorney, Michael Dowd, and Queens Assistant District Attorney Debra Pomodore, who is prosecuting the case, agree that the woman killed her husband, they painted very different pictures about the morning Raymond Sheehan died, as well as the relationship the two had, at the start of Barbara Sheehan’s trial at the Queens Supreme Courthouse in Kew Gardens last week.
Dowd told the story of a woman who had lived in “misery, pain and fear” since her husband allegedly began to abuse her not long after her second child, also named Raymond, was born in 1990.
“I can’t tell you the specific numbers of blows that Raymond Sheehan visited upon his wife — they’re in the tens of thousands,” Dowd told the jury during opening arguments on Friday. “It was a life of misery and fear.”
According to Dowd, his client had tried to leave her husband, but he told her, “you’re not going anyplace.”
“‘I’m a cop,’” Dowd said Raymond Sheehan told his wife. “‘You call the police, who are they going to believe — me or you?’”
“He said, ‘if you tell anyone, I’ll kill you, the kids and your family,’” Dowd said. “… He told her, ‘I know how to commit the perfect crime, and nobody will know I did it.’”
On Feb. 17, 2008, the day before Raymond Sheehan died, the couple went to visit their son, who was a freshman at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. After they left and were in the car, Raymond Sheehan “turned to her and punched her in the nose,” Dowd said.
“He said, ‘you filthy b****, how dare you get blood in my new car,’” Dowd said.
After they returned home, Raymond Sheehan drove his wife to the now defunct St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst.
While she waited in the emergency room, her husband “was calling her over and over and over,” asking, “‘did you say anything? You’ve gotta get out of there,’” Dowd said.
The next morning, Barbara Sheehan, reportedly fearing for her life, told her husband she did not want to go on a planned vacation to Florida with him —a move that allegedly enraged her husband, who threw her out of the house, Dowd said.
“Finally she came back in and was soaked and freezing and she told him she’d go,” Dowd said.
After that, Raymond Sheehan reportedly told his wife to change their reservations so they would no longer be staying in a part of the state where relatives would be but in a place where nobody knew them, Dowd said.
“He made her make that change with a gun to her head,” the attorney told the jurors.
After Raymond Sheehan then went into the bathroom, Barbara Sheehan “knocks on the bathroom door and says she’s going to get dog food,” Dowd told the jury. “She figured she could run. He took out his gun and said, ‘I’m going to kill you; you’re not going anywhere.’”
Instead, Barbara Sheehan shot him five times with his .38-caliber revolver that he had left in their bedroom. Upon emptying that, she picked up his 9-mm Glock and fired that six times at her husband.
“She called her sister, who found her on her knees crying hysterically,” Dowd said.
Pomodore, the prosecutor, however, painted a picture of a 49-year-old retired detective who “was trapped, almost naked” as his wife stood in front of him “with a fully-loaded five-shot .38-caliber revolver.”
“She didn’t give Raymond Sheehan a chance to come at her, disarm her,” Pomodore said during her opening argument. “There was nowhere for him to take cover. Barbara Sheehan picked up that gun and released a torrent of bullets at her husband only feet away.”
Pomodore dramatically reenacted what she said happened, often molding her hands into the shape of a gun and yelling “bang,” numerous times in the courtroom.
“Raymond Sheehan was down, injured and bullet-ridden,” Pomodore said. “But Barbara Sheehan didn’t stop … Barbara Sheehan emptied the five-shot revolver while her husband lay on that bathroom floor, clearly no threat to her. She could’ve called 911 for an ambulance, for help. She went and got a 9-mm semi-automatic hand gun that city police use.”
The assistant district attorney told the jurors they may “hear claims about a troubled marriage,” and said “there were problems and complexities” as in “any marriage.”
Pomodore said that “no matter what allegations you hear,” the defendant had no right to kill Raymond Sheehan.
“Her intent was to kill him, and she took him down in a hail of bullets,” Pomodore said.
During the course of a trial that is expected to last a couple, or several, weeks, the prosecution will first present its witnesses, followed by the defense. Barbara Sheehan and her two children are expected to testify.
On Monday, a UPS delivery man who responded to screams for help at the scene testified, as did a responding police officer from the 106th Precinct.
William Schulken, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1987 to 1991, said he was making a delivery on Feb. 18, 2008 when he “heard a couple making a commotion behind me, yelling, ‘She needs help, she needs help.’”
Upon following the two women, who were Barbara Sheehan’s sister and mother, Schulken said he saw “a woman on her knees screaming, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead.’”
“I saw two guns in her hands, pressed against her stomach,” he continued.
Schulken told Barbara Sheehan to drop the weapons, which she did.
“In eight seconds, I went from thinking I was helping someone with CPR to two guns being under my feet,” he said.
As he stood there, the delivery man said Barbara Sheehan continued to say, “‘I killed him, he’s dead.’”
She also said, ‘He was gonna take me to Florida, he was gonna kill me,’” Schulken told the jurors.
Police Officer Michael Petrizzo, a former member of the 106th Police Precinct who is now part of the NYPD’s school safety unit, said he found Barbara Sheehan sitting in a white chair in her home’s foyer, crying.
“She said, ‘I shot him, I shot him, he’s a retired cop,’” Petrizzo said in court.
Upon going to the second floor of the Sheehan home, Petrizzo said “the first thing I noticed was the smell of gunpowder.”
He then said he saw a “middle aged man lying in his underwear,” and “riddled with bullet holes.”
Petrizzo ran downstairs to handcuff Barbara Sheehan. As he waited for other police to arrive, he said he began to record what Barbara Sheehan was saying.
“She said, ‘I couldn’t take it anymore, he beat me all the time, he broke my nose, he held a gun to my head,’” said Petrizzo.