A little over a year ago, Barbara Sheehan was a wife of 24 years, a mother of two and working as a school secretary. Today, the 48-year-old is up against murder charges and is months away from facing a jury that will decide her fate.
When Barbara married Raymond, a police officer, she looked forward to sharing a long and happy life with him. "We had the same beliefs and we wanted to have children, and everything was really good," she says.
Barbara and Raymond had their first child, a girl, two years after they got married. A few years later, they had a son. Barbara says everything changed after their second child. "[Raymond] started to get very violent," she says. "He was physically abusive. He was emotionally abusive, psychologically abusive. He used to push me, shove me. He would step on me, kick me."
Barbara says she never pressed charges against Raymond because he was the police. "He let me know that all the time, that no one would believe me. 'I have the badge. They're going to believe the badge,'" she says.
Even when things got so bad that Barbara had to go to the hospital, she says she protected her husband, claiming she was clumsy and fell.
Raymond was at his most violent on vacation, Barbara says. "He would drink a lot. ... He came very close to killing me in Jamaica," she says. "My biggest fear was that he was going to kill me, and after he killed me, he was going to kill my children."
Barbara says the breaking point came when she decided against joining Raymond on a trip to Florida. "He was in the bathroom and ... he had a gun on the counter right next to the sink," she says. Barbara claims that Raymond came at her with the gun in his hand and that's when she shot him to death.
Barbara says Raymond had two guns on him at all times—one on his ankle and one on his waist. On the day of the shooting, Barbara says he only had one in the bathroom with him, sitting on the counter. When Barbara told him she didn't want to join him in Florida, she says he came at her with the gun. "He raised the gun and he aimed it at me, and he told me he was going to kill me," she says. "So I ran down the hallway, away from the bathroom. When I got into the bedroom, the other gun that he normally carried was laying there, and my thought was that I couldn't get out of the house without passing the bathroom, so I got the other gun and I came down the hallway with the gun in my hand."
Barbara says she thought if Raymond saw a gun in her hand, he might back down. "I ran by the bathroom door, and as I ran by, he came at me with the gun he had, and I had no choice," she says.
Barbara pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, and her trial is set for the fall of 2009. She is currently out of jail on $1 million bond.
Barbara fired 11 bullets at Raymond, but she says she had no idea how many she was shooting. "I never would have believed it was 11 times. It all happened so fast. I'd never raised a gun before," she says.
After she shot Raymond, Barbara says she realized what she'd done and couldn't believe it. "I went to help him, and he went to get the gun and went to shoot me again," she says. "So I picked it up and I just shot it."
It's highly unusual for someone awaiting trial to appear on The Oprah Show, but Barbara says she has a message she wants to get out. "It should be known that people need to get out of relationships immediately when something [violent] starts," she says. "Controlling is the first sign of someone that is an abuser. ... If you can't take your children to the park without him driving by to make sure that's where you are, that's the time to get out."
Barbara's abuse lasted for 16 or 17 years, she says. "He was just very controlling at the beginning. I couldn't go to the store without showing him cash register receipts, so he saw what time I went to the store, what time I checked out," she says. "My spirit was just shot."
Early on in the relationship, Barbara says she thought things would improve. "He would apologize at first and say he was sorry. He'd send roses; he always blamed it on the stress of his job," she says. "But after a while he stopped apologizing. It was always my fault. The reason that it happened was because what I did—I made the weather bad today or I caused the traffic that was there or maybe a sports team lost that he wanted to win. It was always my fault." Barbara says Raymond's violence could be caused by anything, and there was no way to foresee when it would bubble up.
Barbara's daughter, Jennifer, says she witnessed her mother's abuse and is shocked that the relationship ended as it did. "When I got a phone call and I heard something had happened, I was sure the he had hurt my mom either really severely or had killed her," Jennifer says. "He harmed her for 17 years."
Jennifer says when her parents weren't fighting, they weren't communicating at all. "There was no conversation," she says. "There was silence and there was always tension, and there was always emotional and verbal abuse."
Jennifer says when she was younger she tried to protect her mother from her father. "I would try to fight back with him," she says. "But that would make things worse. I learned as I got older to bite my lip and keep my mouth shut."
Jennifer says the worst thing she remembers her father doing to her mother came after he noticed a scratch on the car. "I don't even know how it happened, but he came home and I heard commotion—things being pushed and falling—so I walked into the room," she says. "I was probably about 10, and he was actually laying on top of her, hitting her in the side. That was the worst thing I'd ever seen him do to her physically."
When Jennifer was about 14, she says she saw her father pour a pot of hot marinara sauce on her mother's head. "I was sitting at the table. ... He came in and said: 'I'm not eating this. I'm not having marinara sauce.' He took the pot and he dumped it on her, and he said, 'Now clean it up and make me something else to eat,'" she says.
Barbara says Raymond was continually humiliating her. "He had no respect for me at all, and he had no respect for my children either," she says.
Jennifer says her father once locked the whole family in her bedroom and threatened to kill them if they came out. Despite these threats, Jennifer says he didn't often physically abuse her. "There was one moment where he had actually physically thrown me across a room into chair, but never to the extent that he abused my mother," she says.
Even though Barbara says she never reported Raymond's abuse, she shared the information with co-workers. "We even contacted a domestic hotline number, and after giving them all the specifics of the incident, they told me that the only way out of the type of relationship I was in was to actually disappear, because he would find me no matter where I was," she says. "He worked in the crime scene unit in the New York Police Department, and he had access to all kinds of forensic work, all kinds of access to find me if I was to go anywhere, and it wasn't an option."
Barbara says she tried several times to leave her husband. "I packed my children up and got in the car. He promised that he would find us, and he promised that he would take care of me and my children and no one would ever know it. He'd go after my family, my brother, my sister, my parents," she says. "And I knew that he would. There was no doubt in my mind that he would."
Though Barbara admits to shooting her husband, she says she shouldn't be sent to prison. "How could someone go to jail for defending themselves? But if I have to go to jail, then I'll be better off than where I was," she says. "And my children will be better off, and they're better off now."
Jennifer doesn't think her mother should be put in jail. "My mother is the nicest person that I've ever met," she says. "I'm so proud of her for what she did. She stood up for herself. God knows I might not be alive today if it was the other way around. Who knows who else he would have gone after."
Jennifer says there is no part of her that misses her father. "My brother and I lived our lives in constant fear," she says. "My life is 150 percent better."
The Oprah Show contacted the district attorney's office for a comment about Barbara's case, but they are unable to comment at this time.