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Sheehan acquitted of murder

Barbara Sheehan (c.) hugs her daughter Jennifer Joyce and embraces her son Raymond (l.) and her lawyer Michael Dowd (r.) after she was acquitted of murder chargers but found guilty of possessing a weapon. Photo by Ellis Kaplan
TimesLedger Newspapers

Defense lawyers plan to appeal what they call the contradictory verdict rendered last Thursday after Barbara Sheehan, the Howard Beach mother who shot her ex-cop husband, was acquitted of murder but found guilty on gun possession charges.

“She was acquitted of murder by self-defense. She should have been acquitted of unlawfully possessing a gun,” said attorney Niall MacGiollabhui, who was part of a team that represented Sheehan.

Cheers erupted from family members and supporters, who crowded the courtroom when the verdict was read in Queens Supreme Court in Kew Gardens.

“There were quite a few cries of happiness,” said Carlo Ferrante, an in-law of the Sheehan family who exited the court along with the rest of the family.

Michael Dowd, who also represented Sheehan, argued throughout the trial that Sheehan shot her husband, Raymond, a retired NYPD officer, in self-defense inside the bathroom of their home Feb. 18, 2008.

Dowd employed what is known as the battered woman defense, arguing that Sheehan suffered under 17 years of abuse from her husband and that she feared for her life when she shot her husband five times with a .38-caliber revolver and then six more times with a 9 mm Glock semi-automatic handgun.

Sheehan had a few days of freedom before she was scheduled to return to custody Wednesday.

But her lawyers hope to keep her out on bail pending her sentencing, which lawyers estimated would take place in a matter of weeks, and also pending an appeal.

Dowd and MacGiollabhui said they will file an appeal on the grounds that the verdict is repugnant.

“Repugnant” is a legal term that basically means the verdict is contradictory, MacGiollabhui said.

As an example, MacGiollabhui said if a man is walking down the street and is attacked, and that man manages to wrestle a gun from his attacker and fire off a shot in self-defense, he cannot be charged with using the gun unlawfully.

In Sheehan’s case, the jury found she used the Glock and .38-caliber handguns in self-defense.

MacGiollabhui contends, then, that she should be acquitted of the criminal possession of a weapon charge, which carries a minimum of 3 1/2 years in jail and a maximum of 15 years, according to the Queens district attorney.

Queens Supreme Court Judge Barry Kron, who presided over the roughly one-month-long trial, reviewed the verdict and found it not to be repugnant, MacGiollabhui said.

But the defense said the judge was looking at the issue too broadly.

“He was looking in more general terms,” MacGiollabhui said. “He wasn’t looking at this specific point.”

There are several precedents to back up the judge’s point. A person could be walking around with an illegally concealed weapon and then happen to use it in self-defense at some point. A jury could convict that person with criminal possession of a weapon and acquit them of a murder charge, MacGiollabhui said.

“If [Sheehan] was using the gun to defend herself, then she can’t be guilty of using it unlawfully,” he said.

The defense suspected the jury convicted Sheehan on the gun charge in order to reach an agreement.

“My guess is it was a compromise verdict,” MacGiollabhui said. “A few people were reluctant to acquit so a compromise is reached.”

The jury had complained on its second day of deliberation that it was “hopelessly deadlocked”; the next day it reached a consensus.

Immediately after the verdict, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown held a news conference, where he stated that the DA stands by the jury’s decision.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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