Domestic Abuse: When Are You Doing “Too Much” In Self-Defense?

October 7, 2011  |  

Ashley Dennis

On Monday, I published a news post about former New York Governor David Paterson’s stepdaughter, Ashley Dennis, 23, opening up a can of whoop-butt on her boyfriend after the two got into a violent fight inside of his West Village apartment last weekend. During their fight, the boyfriend, Brian McGuinness, 30, says that he choked Dennis. At some point, she was able to get out of the chokehold and hit McGuinness with a bottle. She later is said to have repeatedly slammed his leg in the door until he lost consciousness. Now, depending on who you ask, Dennis went too far. If she had to break a bottle over the man’s head to get him away from her, that was fine. But to many of our readers who commented on the story, slamming the man’s door in the leg repeatedly until he went unconscious was over-the-top. You ask another group, they’ll say she was just trying to defend herself and keep him down. Who is to say what is too far unless you’re in that same position?

Well, I bring you the case of Barbara Sheehan of Queens, a woman who shot her retired police officer husband 11 times (count ’em) after an argument where she feared he was going to shoot her. She was recently acquitted of murder after defense proved that she was an abused woman trying to escape from her husband’s rage as opposed to a scheming wife trying to get her husband’s life insurance. According to the New York Daily News, this is what she says went down on Feb. 18, 2008–while her husband shaved in the bathroom:

“After a fight over vacation plans, as she tried to sneak out of the house with his revolver, he aimed a 9-mm. Glock pistol at her. She said she fired five shots from a revolver, then grabbed the Glock as it clattered to the floor and clicked off six more rounds before he could grab it.”

Sheehan, 50, a school secretary, didn’t get off scott free though for the death of her husband. She was convicted of gun possession and must return to jail next week until sentencing in November, where she can get between three and 15 years behind bars. Her husband, retired New York Police Department Sgt. Raymond Sheehan, according to Barbara Sheehan and the couple’s own children, was known not only for having a violent temper and a history of abuse against Barbara Sheehan, but for cheating on his wife as well. According to CBS New York, their 25-year-old daughter testified that her mother was abused daily. Their 21-year-old son even read a rage-riddled letter he wrote at the age of 14 about finding out his father had a girlfriend, testified that he had considered suicide because of the drama at home, and left the state for school to get away from it all. Prosecutors and the victim’s own brother believe that Barbara Sheehan killed Raymond Sheehan out of anger over his infidelity and to get money from his life insurance policies (he had two). They don’t believe that she was a victim of abuse.

Knowing the reaction the Dennis story received, I thought I’d ask if Sheehan’s response to a possible attack by her husband was “too much.” When is a woman really going too far in defending herself? Especially in the case of Sheehan who had allegedly been dealing with domestic abuse for years. I’ve read comments from stories on both women’s cases that ranged from “This is NYS, the state of the double standard, where violent women can get away with murder”, and “This poor guy is going to get roasted, I hope he gets a really good lawyer.” There seems to be a huge backlash from men who feel like the “battered woman” defense is used to the nines, and that women who get out of control themselves only get a slap on the wrist for doing too much. Once again, I don’t advocate violence of any kind like that, but when it comes to how someone fights to live, or to get a grown a** man off of them, I think we should really think about what “doing too much” really means. Thoughts?

Barbara Sheehan

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