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

October 7, 2011  |  

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?

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • dr. gray

    Yes, he tried to kill her. She did the right thing. To beat him unconscious. When he wakes up he will think before he raise his hands to a female again. I know a man who was shot 7 times by his women for beating her so bad he broke both of his hands hitting her across the head. Yet, his next women he beat too. Anyone saying that a women who is being abused has choices has never been in that situation. I run a womens shelter for women suffering from domestic violence. We have women and children who are scared of their abuser. We have security guards, because the abuser will stalk these women and try to KILL them. You see it on the news everyday. If you don't have sympathy for these women now who will have it for you later..

  • greyeyed girl

    she did the right thing…i would have done it too. idiots here are missing the true point here…HE WAS CHOKING HER!!! thank goodness she got out of it! I would have bashed his head in with a bottle too.. and with everything else i could get my hands on…she did the right thing…he tried to KILL HER!!!


    If you accept the abuse, you thereby have given him all the power. He will continue to dominate you and may reward you for submitting to it. Usually, more mental and physical abuse is all you get. Until you maybe go berserk.

    It's the love & abuse cycle that gets victims of domestic violence to stay.

  • Beautiful Mic

    No she should be charged with assault. She would not have had to do what she did had he not assaulted her. That's, purely, self defense.

    Some of our laws are chauvinist.

  • Beautiful Mic

    If a man has you in a choke hold, thus the disposition to end your life, there is no such thing as going too far in trying to defend, save, it. Why is it that a person placed in the disposition of saving their own life is expected to act rationally. I think the responsibility for how they react is more the person who put them in the disposition to begin with. You can't go around putting women in choke holds and not expect the possibility that they might go bonkers on your ass? Now, if she had beat him up, killed him, then ate him – that would have been too far, IMO.

    • Beautiful Mic

      IMO, a man should not expect fair play when he lays hands on a woman. Life, just, isn't fair.

  • Jesse James

    The majority of female prisoners found themselves abused by men before finding themselves behind bars. Spending the remainder of one's days in prison for murder is no joke. But, physically abusing a person who is physically weaker comes with undesired consequences for the abuser. Sometimes that consequence is public embarrassment, a knot on the head, jail time or even death. We all must think of the consequences of our actions before we take action. With that said, I'll repeat what I stated earlier: Only a punk will raise his hands to a woman in any manner that's not intended to benefit the woman. If a man believes his woman is crazy, he has the option to simply walk away. But, on the other hand, sissified punks like this clown who attempted to beat the Gov's daughter should get their as$es handed to them by a woman a bit more often. If his mother had utilized a little occasional corporal punishment decades ago, young innocent ladies, such as Gov. Patterson's daughter wouldn't have to finish the job his mother didn't… . Note to ex-boyfriend: "That Brown Sugar and Spice ain't always nice!" 😉

  • Kaydee-P

    Adrenaline and every emotion you've had to repress is running high. Ms Dennis clearly incapacitated her boyfriend so he could not harm her at all- getting away is not enough if dude can get back up in moments and come after you. That moment where you have finally hit someone who has beaten you down back- you just want to keep them down, make them feel the pain you did. And if, as a battered woman, you even LIVE to get the chance to fight back, you're going IN- you want to end his abuse once and for all. That's why she slammed his leg in the door. She is not guilty.

  • Jenn

    My mother was a victim of domestic abuse. She did the right thing by leaving, I don't think I could have held out much longer. Only my childish love of 'daddy' kept me from killing the sorry excuse for a father then. Now it's the wisdom that sooner rather than later his bad arteries will do the job for me. But according to the majority of posters here, the thing to do is shoot once, aim well, make sure there's only my side of the story to tell. Good to know, if ever the situation calls for it.

    • Beautiful Mic

      Yes, leaving is smart. But if you're dealing with a certain type of crazy, and you don't have anyone else (or access to the resources) to offer you a safe haven or defense, you might just have to (if you can) muscle your way out of the situation. Anyway, that's my example. My dad tried to set that normalcy (daily abuse), but mom raised up. It didn't take too many times, either. He left – running for his life.

  • Janee'

    Violence is Violence. The criminal justice system, as we all know, is extremely faulty.

  • gail

    insanity is a VALID defense to "get off" for murder/assault blah blah and if in that moment she snapped and really lost it then legally she isnt responsible for her actions.

  • Marks

    I'm sure that dude and you will think twice before laying your hands on a female

  • Marks

    So what the he'll are you pms-ing about?

  • kjw

    women who repeatedly choose men who hit them have issues wth violence. I feel they have a blind spot. They do not run from a guy who hit the. I think they stay in it for alot of reasons and even think if they beat him good he may stop andthey could live happily ever after. The one's that kill stay in it till they go crazy from the fear anger and stress. I feel that they need therapy to see that theycan choose better guys. The woman who killed the cheatershould havedivorced him along time ago instead of runing her life by killing him or letting it drive her to madness. Now her kids are gonna be allmessed uo on top of the damage. As far as Paterson's daughter, that sounds so weird to me. Ithink she was really enraged that he had the nerves to hit her and was motivated by revenge and did not know he was unconscious. I do not know what went onwith her growing op but Ithink thier are some issues she can use therapy totalk out and stay away from the guys for a few months whiledrawing closer to God.

    • Michelle

      KJW, Thank You for offering a response that did NOT include blaming the ABUSED. You are right such Women do indeed, need counseling, the trouble with that is that to often these Women/Men have already been so beaten & broken that they think/feel they desereve to be abused they do NOT see/understand that they have a SEVERE Emotional/Mental/Spiritual Disorder that has engrained itself within them. I didn't, it took me years to think/feel/know that I deserved & had to demand much, Much, MUCH more. A guy hit me now & he better have his weight up & bring his AAA Game! BECAUSE, I KNOW ME, I LIKE ME, I LOVE ME, & I KNOW I DESERVE TO BE TREATED WITH ALL OF THE CARE/COMPASSION/RESPECT/DIGNITY/& LOVE THAT I WILL GIVE!!!!!

  • Thank you for highlighting this issue. Both of your articles were great and I couldn't agree with you more!

    Men who abuse women put fear in these women's hearts, and then when they strike back they are often vilified by the same system that is supposed to protect them.

    TC Galltin

  • nappyandhappy

    no sympathy either way sorry but ive seen too many women get caught up with dudes who treat them horribly, have friends and family more than willing to step up and help them out only to be brainwashed or not grow stones and stay with these opportunists, at not only there detriment but also there children's. sorry but as a woman who hasnot had the most ideal life i know one thing and that is if a man puts his hands on me once..ONCE im out, no "baby im sorry" crap im not that gullible and i dont have sympathy for others who are. Unless the man has you physically chained to a concrete slab in the basement there is no reason for you to stay. not in this day and age not when all it takes is $1.00 to get on a Megabus. dont come to me with that we have children mess you shouldn't have had kids in the first place. Men who beat there wife's usually beat them pretty early on in the relationship so him beating you in front of your kids is not new. Im disgusted just as much by the women who choose (because unless this is an arranged marriage, you choose who you spend your life with) to be treated like garbage. If that makes me a C U Next Tuesday so be it.

    • Michelle

      Please, DO NOT, be so quick to judge a situation that you apparently have NO right or experience with! If you have never been abused, in this day & age you have NOT gone without knowing someone who has been abused whether you knew or not! Just as often Abusers were abused themselves, an Abused adult has NOT just decided to enter into & stay in an Abusive situation! Often, unbeknownced or unrealized by the Abused person they have been in abusive relationships ALL of thier lives, so for them this is NORMAL!!! "NO ABUSED PERSON CAUSES OR DESERVES TO BE ABUSED! GOD, forbid you ever come to a full realization of an ABUSIVE Relationship!!! Sadly you sound like the type of person who would be abusive. The average abused ault is NOT looking for sympathy, but Empathy can go far in helping a person heal! Are you sure you have NEVER worked for the City of Newnan, Ga. Police.

      • nappyandhappy

        actually i know a few mentally and physically abused women who i have cut all ties with because they refuse to leave the situation and seek help even when it is offered with no strings. They let there children watch them be degraded those children will grow up and be abused or abusers themselves. i have had these children come to me and beg for help and when i called dcfs the "friend" got mad at me for getting in her business. like i said she needed help, i offered it, she tore my head off sooo no sympathy or emapthy for anyone who allows themselves to be beaten and i dont apologize for it. those women and men are toxic and i am not allowing any of that negativity to bring me down any longer. your right i have never been abused because i know better and pick men who treat me with respect.

    • Hi, sweety. My friends told me about BlackWhiteFinder– č0 /Μ. She told me it is the best place to meet black and white singles whoever you want. I have tried. It is fantastic. You wanna get laid tonight? Come in and give it a shot, you will find someone you like there. Black or white even interracial one. Have fun! You may find me there! 😉