It is the details that have broken the family — recollecting reading her son’s college religion essay just before she shot her husband 11 times in their Howard Beach home, being asked to read out loud in court an expletive-laced journal entry written by a 14-year-old son who hated his father, a daughter’s memory of being 4 years old and listening to her father screaming at her mother in the bedroom below.
These are the details that make up a lifetime, the narratives that form who people are, and, for Barbara Sheehan and her family, the stories that have been publicly pieced together over the past month by the defense and prosecution. The attorneys wove very different tales about the Howard Beach woman and the life she led before ending up in an alternately cold and stuffy room with a dramatic green marble wall in the Queens Supreme courthouse.
Now the telling of these stories, done through eyes flooded with tears or defensively, dismissive of statements made by the assistant district attorney prosecuting Barbara Sheehan’s case, are over. As of press time on Wednesday, the jury was reportedly deadlocked, and Judge Barry Kron, who has presided over the case, had asked the group of nine women and three men to try to reach a verdict.
Should the jury reach a verdict, Barbara Sheehan and her children, Jennifer Joyce, 25, and Raymond Sheehan, 21, named after his father who was a retired NYPD sergeant, will never again have to say the simple grammatical sentences that made them sob on the witness stand — “I hate him,” or “I thought he was going to kill me.”
Defense attorney Michael Dowd, a Bayside resident, and Assistant District Attorney Debra Pomodore, concluded their summations on Monday, wrapping up weeks of intense testimony before a crowd of people who daily wore purple, the color representing domestic violence awareness.
They argued what they have said since the beginning, with Dowd saying his client had killed her husband in self defense, that she shot a man who she said had abused her for the last 18 years of their 24-year marriage and who she believed was about to kill her. Pomodore, on the other hand, said Sheehan “executed” her husband, who she argued was a loving family man who frequently took his family on lavish vacations, because Sheehan believed he was cheating on her.
The trial, as many go, was a test of theatrics, the attorneys’ painting of people and emotions sometimes seeming as important as the facts, though even they often seemed to fall into the murky waters of the subjective.
Summations were no different.
“You heard from the two children about what it was like to live there,” Dowd said to the jurors. “It was literally a fog of fear about what Raymond Sheehan would do at any given moment. One of the hardest things for human beings to live with, and the children expressed this, is to go minute by minute, day by day, month by month, year by year knowing that you’ll get hit and hurt, but not knowing when it will happen.”
Dowd, wearing a purple shirt and tie, recounted testimony from Barbara Sheehan and her two children, telling jurors that his client’s husband “wanted to appear the perfect family man outside the house, but he terrorized his wife and children.”
He quickly ran through the day Raymond Sheehan died —Feb. 18, 2008 — telling jurors that the husband had become increasingly abusive toward his wife in public not long before the killing and that Barbara Sheehan believed he was planning on killing her, potentially on a trip to Florida the couple was supposed to make that day. Dowd said that after Barbara Sheehan told her husband she did not want to accompany him to Florida, he kicked her out of the house, where she stayed for about an hour in a cold February drizzle until she agreed to go with him. Then, Dowd said, the man allegedly put a gun to her head and forced her to change their reservations so the couple would not be traveling to the region of Florida where her family was located.
When Sheehan told her husband she was going to get dog food in an attempt to escape, Dowd said he allegedly pointed a gun at her and told her she wasn’t going anywhere and that he was going to kill her. Instead, Barbara Sheehan shot her husband 11 times.
Pomodore, however, accused Sheehan of manipulating the jury, saying the woman had “executed” her husband after she believed he had been cheating on her for years.
“Was this self defense or a self-serving execution?” Pomodore asked. “You know now. You know because there's no version of the facts that would permit the defendant to take the life of an unarmed man.”
Pomodore told jurors that Raymond Sheehan had never pointed the gun at his wife and that she had shot him while he was shaving in their bathroom.
“Despite the fact that you’ve heard about a complex marital story, the fact remains that this case is about one thing only — if Barbara Sheehan is guilty of murder,” Pomodore said.
And that is up to the jury — the 12 people now holed up eating ordered out lunch in a Kew Gardens courthouse, deciding whose stories they believe.