HOWARD BEACH, N.Y. (PIX11)—Every year some 500 women kill their abusers in domestic relationships. The story of how Barbara Sheehan shot and killed her husband Ray with his own two loaded guns, and the her ultimate acquittal at trial, dominated headlines for months. She told her story only as she testified for her own freedom. Until now. Thursday, Barbara Sheehan took PIX11 News into the home she shared with her family, where she suffered untold abuse, and where she ended the torment in a hail of bullets.
"The abuse was horrendous. It just didn't stop the black and blues, the black eyes the bruising. It was just horrible to have a gun put to your mouth to your head on more than one occasion," Barbara Sheehan can lay it all out now, three and half years after the abuse stopped. Sheehan had endured 17 years of verbal, physical and mental abuse. Both of her children testified in her defense at her murder trial; she was acquitted of shooting and killing her retired NYPD Sergeant husband Ray, escaping a 25 years to life sentence. It all ended here, in the family's Howard Beach home. 24 hours of intense fighting between the two came to an explosive conclusion in February of 2008.
"He was screaming he was going to kill me, I'm f'ing going to kill you. And I picked up the gun I had and I shot him. I don't know how many times I shot," she says, with a look on her face as if she is back there, in the hallway, outside the bathroom, facing what had just happened. In just moments Barbara used two of Ray's loaded guns, firing 11 bullets, bringing her husband's life, her marriage, and ultimately her torture--to an end.
"All of a sudden it was over and I was still standing up and he wasn't and he was no longer threatening me."
Barbara says looking back, she saw the signs that Ray wanted to end her life, "I knew the end was near and that he was going to kill me."
For years he kept her abuse secret to make the Sheehan family life look perfect from the outside. Lying to cover up the bruises, threatening her with wiping out her entire family to keep her quiet. "He would tell me if I told anybody he was going to go down in glory he's not going down easily and he would take everyone out before he left."
The night before the shooting, Barbara and Ray visited son Raymond at his Connecticut college. It was then that Barbara stood up to him--saying she would not go to Florida the next day on a planned vacation. It unleashed his fury. "I put my foot down and said I'm not going to Florida tomorrow. I'm not, I can't, I'm afraid of you. And he broke my nose in the car. This white t-shirt I was wearing was full of blood, and he took his gun out and held it up to me and said he was going to kill me if I got blood in his new car."
She needed to go to the hospital, and ended up walking, but could not escape his threats. "He was texting me all night while I was in the hospital and threatened me and said if a cop car shows up here I am going to go down in glory and he was going to take out my whole family, my kids, my father, my brother and then was coming back to get me, and I knew he was going to do it. I knew he had the guns and the extra ammunition."
And it wasn't over the next morning, when they should have been leaving for vacation. "He dragged me out of bed, dragged me down the stairs and threw me out on the porch."
Left in the February rain, in her pajamas, she hid under their deck, ashamed to ask for help, terrified to go back inside. "I was so afraid, I knew he was going to kill me, I knew. 17 years. You just know."
Barbara had called an abuse hotline just weeks before; they told her to accumulate some cash, and get ready to flee. She decided she would go for good, but telling Ray she needed to run to the store.
"His face was totally blank, his eyes were glazed over they had not emotion. He opened the door and had a gun in his hand and pointed a gun at my head and he said he was going to kill me if I left the house, that I couldn't leave the house."
But she knew she couldn't stay either.
She recounted the horrific moments of the shooting, "I ran down the hall, and got my money and that's when one of the guns was lying on the bed. So I said in order to get out of the house, I needed to pass the bathroom and get down the stairs. If I have a gun in my hand, then maybe he won't shoot. Cuz he'll see that I have a gun and he won't use his. "He came at me with the gun he had, and I picked up the gun I had and I shot him. I don't know how many times I shot."
Barbara had just emptied Ray's .38 caliber fully loaded pistol, the weapon he usually wore strapped to his ankle. 5 bullets tore into Ray. But a second gun, his NYPD issued 9mm glock that he kept with him as he showered, had slipped from his hands and was on the floor between them.
Sheehan continued the blow by blow narrative, "I went to the bathroom to actually help him, I felt so bad. He kind of slid down, was in the sitting position, he was trying to get up, use his hands to push himself up and reaching for the gun next to him and he was screaming I'm going to f'ing kill you, wait till I get up you're f'ing dead, I'm going to f'ing kill you. So I grabbed the gun that he was trying to reach. / He was a lot bigger than I am he was going to catch me. So I was backing out of the bathroom and I shot that gun too and I shot it until he wasn't threatening me anymore and he couldn't get up and I ran down the stairs."
Barbara unleashed a total of eleven bullets, killing Ray, ending the abuse, but not the guilt.
"I couldn't believe this had happened. this is what I did. It was a terrible, terrible thing to live with."
She was found not guilty of murder on October 5th, and is now appealing one guilty charge for weapons possession. Out on a million dollars bond, secured by four of her family members houses, she is physically free, and for the first time in decades, mentally freed as well.