By Sarina Trangle
Barbara Sheehan, a Howard Beach mother imprisoned after she fatally shot her abusive husband, said she will not be able to meet her first grandchild for a few months, but hopes a clemency push may spare her from completely missing the baby’s first years.
“It’s not easy to be away from my family and to be not able to work and support myself and my family,” Sheehan said in a telephone phone interview from prison, noting that her son puts in long hours studying to be a physician’s assistant and her daughter is expecting a child Feb. 11 and lives in Florida. “She won’t be back here now until after the baby is born and gets shots.”
Queens Supreme Court Justice Barry Kron sentenced Sheehan to five years in prison Nov. 11, 2013 after a jury acquitted her of murder but convicted her of criminal possession of a weapon. However, she started serving time Aug. 7, before her case went through the appeals process.
Sheehan shot her husband, Raymond Sheehan, a former NYPD detective, 11 times with two different guns while he was shaving in the bathroom Feb. 18, 2008.
The former school secretary and her lawyers said Sheehan acted in self-defense, after her spouse repeatedly threatened to kill her during nearly two decades marked by physical and emotional abuse.
Sheehan’s attorneys said Kron could have handed down a sentence below the minimum 3 1/2 years by invoking leniency for victims of domestic violence, but instead gave her five years. Her sentencing requires Sheehan to serve all five years before being granted parole.
Sheehan teamed up with the New York State Prisoner Assistance Center to begin making the case for clemency. If granted by the governor, clemency would allow her to serve the remaining 4 1/2 years of her sentence on parole. She would then remain on parole for 2 1/2 years, according to Mario Vredenburg, executive director of the center.
Generally, New Yorkers are not eligible for clemency unless they have served at least half of their sentence, but Vredenburg said he believes two exceptions excuse Sheehan from this stipulation: Clemency would be in the interest of justice and consistent with public safety, and Sheehan’s rehabilitation and further incarceration would constitute gross unfairness because of inequities in her court case.
Vredenburg said the justice’s decision forbidding Sheehan’s psychiatrist from testifying raised questions about the trial. He also said Kron’s statement that the sentence was meant to deter others from engaging in similar behavior shows the punishment was misguided.
“So other women that get beaten for 20 years shouldn’t defend themselves when their lives are in imminent danger?” Vredenburg said. “He gave a sentence he admits doesn’t make much sense.”
Sheehan said she felt the judge allowed his personal opinions to influence the sentencing.
“He was totally wrong to put his own personal feeling and personal thoughts into it,” she said. “Jail should be to rehabilitate someone who has a problem and I don’t have a problem.”
The Queens district attorney’s office declined to comment.
The New York State Prisoner Assistance Center has started a petition urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to grant Sheehan clemency. It has collected nearly 1,600 signatures in its first month.
Sheehan has also begun blogging about her clemency campaign and life in prison, at justiceforbarbara.org.
Cuomo’s office did not return a call for comment.
Vredenburg said his group is teaming up with about 20 domestic violence advocacy groups to investigate Sheehan’s case. He anticipates formally handing Cuomo a clemency application in late March.
“Gov. Cuomo has come out at least four times since he took office to publicly say the way courts handle domestic violence needs to be overhauled … and that domestic violence is basically the scourge of society,” Vredenburg said. “He’s never actually put any of that into action. We’re going to call him on that.”
Vredenburg said clemency is extremely rare and, besides one other pending application, the center has not requested clemency in roughly eight years.
“Clemency is an act of grace. It should not just be handed out,” he said.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at email@example.com.