The Wife Who Killed Her Abusive, Police-Sergeant Husband | The Oprah Winfrey Show | OWN

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Just last year, mother of two Barbara Sheehan was a devoted wife of 24 years. She worked as a school secretary and enjoyed attending her neighborhood church. Today, 48-year-old Barbara is just months away from facing a jury, a jury who will decide if she should spend the rest of her life behind bars. BARBARA SHEEHAN: When I first got married, I thought that I was going to have a great life. I thought he came from a good family. We went to the same church, we had the same beliefs, and we wanted to have children, and everything was really good. My daughter was born about two years after I was married. After my son was born, things started to change. He started to get very-- he was very violent. Everything was my fault. If we went somewhere there was traffic, it was my fault. He was physically abusive. He was emotionally abusive, psychologically abusive. He used to push me, shove me, he would step on me, kick me. OPRAH WINFREY: Barbara says she never filed a police report against her husband for one reason. I was unable to go to the police for the abuse because he was the police. And 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. Any time I went to the doctor or the hospital, I always protected him. I always said that I did this to myself. I was clumsy. I fell. One night, I made marinara sauce. And he took the whole pot, and he poured it right over my head because he decided he didn't want marinara sauce today. It was that pot right over there. I, obviously, cried. And he just walked away. And he said, now clean it up and make me something to eat. OPRAH WINFREY: Barbara says family vacations were the most frightening times with Raymond. BARBARA SHEEHAN: He would drink a lot on vacation, and he would get even more violent. I mean, he came very close to killing me in Jamaica. I have stitches that run from my forehead all way into the back of my head because he took the back of my hair, and he pounded up against the cinder block walls of the room. And that was because I woke him up. He was always armed, always had two guns, on his waist and on his ankle. My biggest fear was that he was going to kill me, and after he killed me he was going to kill my children. OPRAH WINFREY: Barbara says a fight over a trip to Florida was the breaking point. BARBARA SHEEHAN: In the morning of the incident, he was in the bathroom and I came up the stairs-- these stairs to tell him that I couldn't go to Florida with him and that I definitely didn't want to go. He had a gun on the counter right-- right next to the sink while he was in the bathroom. And when I looked in the door, he picked up the gun, and he aimed it at me, and I was sure that he was going to kill me. So I ran down this way to get away from him. In my room was the other gun. So I grabbed it, and I thought to myself that he wouldn't shoot me if I had a gun. So I went by, and as I went by, he came right at me from the door, and he went at me with the gun, and I thought that he was going to shoot me. (VOICE BREAKING) And so I took the gun that I had, and I shot him. Well, Barbara shot her husband 11 times that day. She pled not guilty to second degree murder. Her trial is set for this fall. Barbara is currently out of jail on a million-dollar bond. And she is here. Highly unusual that you would be able to talk to me. Why did you want to talk to me? Well, I think that it should be known that people need to get out of relationships immediately when something starts. You felt there was nobody to turn to? I tried to get out numerous times. I tried to call the police. Several times I used the phone, and I picked up the phone to dial it, and he would take the receiver out of my hands and punch me in the head with the receiver and tell me that, go ahead and call them. And when they get here, who are they going to believe? I'm a sergeant. They're not going to believe you. Who are you? They're going to believe me, and they're not going to do anything. So who did you tell through this-- because how many years did this go on? It was going on for probably about 16 or 17 years. 16 or 17 years. And what does that do to your spirit, to the spirit of you? Oh, my spirit was just shot. You know, he was just very, very controlling at the beginning-- very-- you couldn't-- 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, what time I left the store, and then how much time I had to get back home again. He would check those things. He-- I couldn't take my children on playdates when they were little because he would be calling to make sure that's where I was. And he alienated me from a lot of friends that I had because he wanted the control. Was there a time when you thought it would get better? At the beginning, I did think it would get better. He would apologize at first and say he was sorry, send roses. He always blamed it on the stress of his job. But after a while, he stopped apologizing, and he-- it was always my fault. So why were vacations worse than other times? Vacations were worse because-- I believe, because he felt he was-- had me alone, away from family and friends-- the few friends that I had. Did your family members know? Had you told anybody in the family? Just several months before this, there was an incident with family members. And he actually came at me, and they knew at that point.

So let's go back to the day of the shooting. You know, you said you saw the gun on the counter, you ran down the hall, you got the gun. So let's go back to the day of the shooting. You know, you said you saw the gun on the counter, you ran down the hall, you got the gun. Did he come at you with the gun? He had one gun in the bathroom. He always had one-- he had two guns all the time that he carried with him, one on his ankle, one on his waist, every time he went anywhere. OPRAH WINFREY: Even to the bathroom. Even to the bathroom. Yes. But at this particular date, he only had one in the bathroom with him. It was on the counter. And when I came up the stairs to explain to him that, you know, I didn't know what we were going to do because I just couldn't go on this vacation, he came at me with the gun that he had on the counter. Came at you how? He raised the gun, and he aimed it at me, and he told me he was going to kill me. And I think that he was at the point-- the breaking point that he was going to kill me. So I ran down the hallway away from the bathroom. When I got into the bedroom, the other gun that he normally carries was laying there. And my thought was I couldn't get out of the house without passing the bathroom because of where the stairs were, so I got the other gun. [SNIFF] (VOICE STRAINED) And I came down the hallway with the gun in my head. And I thought that if-- if I passed the doorway and he saw that I had the gun that maybe he would back down and not hurt me. Did you really think that, having been beaten by this man all these years? - (CRYING) I didn't know. I'd never held a gun in my life. I never picked up a gun. I never touched it. I just thought that maybe he wouldn't do it. And 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. So you raised the gun and shot him 11 times. I never would've believed it was 11 times. It happened all so fast. I never raised a gun before. I didn't even know how many times it was. OPRAH WINFREY: So you shot him. He fell, obviously. Did he not fall the first time, or is that why you kept shooting? He fell, and after he fell-- after he fell, like, the gun that he had in his hand was on the floor. And I realized what I did, what happened. So I went in to help him because I couldn't believe what I did. And I went in to help him. And he went to get the gun, and he went to shoot me again. And I picked it up, and I just shot it. OPRAH WINFREY: I see. So you then fired again at him because-- He was going to kill me. OPRAH WINFREY: He was going to kill you. Barbara's children, Jennifer and Ray, told my producers that they both lived in constant fear watching their dad abuse their mom for years. And Ray is taking his college finals today, and Jennifer is here. Were you surprised to hear that this ended this way? JENNIFER SHEEHAN: I was so shocked. Never in a million years did I imagined that it would end like that. When I got a phone call that I heard something that ha-- that had happened, I was sure that he had hurt my mom either really severely or had killed her. So did you always think that your father would end up harming your mother? That's what I thought that was. He was-- he did harm her for 17 years. OPRAH WINFREY: For 17 years. Do you ever remember a time when they weren't fighting or he wasn't abusive? If they weren't fighting, there was no conversation. There was-- there was silence. And there was always tension. And there was always emotional and verbal abuse. Always. Always. Were there times when you tried to protect your mother? There were. When I was younger, I would try to fight back with him and say, why are you doing this? You need to stop. You know, leave us alone. Just-- just leave. Just get out. But then that would make things worse. So I learned, as I got older, to bite my lip and keep my mouth shut, because if I said something, it would get worse. Is it true your father had pulled a gun on you at one time? He ha-- he had a gun out, yes, around us. And he locked us in my bedroom-- me, my mother, and my brother-- and told us that if we were to come out, if we were to even open the door, he was going to kill us. Did he ever abuse-- did he ever physically abuse you? Other than pointing guns at you. There were moments here and there where-- there was one moment when he had actually physically thrown me across a room into chairs but never to the extent that he abused my mother. OPRAH WINFREY: Did anyone see signs that he was abusing you? I spoke to people in work. Yes, people in work knew what was going on, and they did see signs. Did you tell them how bad it was, or were you afraid? At first, I didn't tell them. And as it was getting worse and it was progressing, I did start to tell them more. And I even-- 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 a relationship of the type that I was in was to actually disappear. I needed to save money and just disappear because he would find me no matter where I was. He worked in the-- 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 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. It was just not an option. OPRAH WINFREY: Had he threatened to kill you? Numerous times. He held guns to my head numerous times. And so the question always is why didn't you leave? I couldn't leave. There was no option to leave. I attempted to leave several times-- packed my children up, got in the car. He promised that he would find us. And he promised that he would take care of me and my children. No one would ever know it. No one-- he would-- and that he'd go after my family-- my brother, my sister my parents. He would take care of everything, and he would definitely find me. And I knew that he would do. There would be no incid-- no doubt in my mind that he would. And he-- OPRAH WINFREY: So how did you think this was going to end? At some point-- and you know, I know one of the reasons why you wanted to do this is for all the women out there who are in some form of this-- BARBARA SHEEHAN: Absolutely. --and you wanted to say to them, there's another way? Any signs-- con-- controlling is the-- is the first sign of someone that is an abuser. - Yeah. And most women in the beginning like it because they think it means he loves me so much he doesn't' want me to be around other people. BARBARA SHEEHAN: And that's the first sign. And that's the sign to get out. So I understand you told my producers that your husband had a secret life. Yes, he did. OPRAH WINFREY: Yeah. What was that secret life? He would go out a lot. And he actually didn't have the decency to have his own screen name or his own email address, so I would go on the computer, and people started to IM me. And I realized that what he was doing was he was meeting people on the outside, but they were transvestite people. And that's what he was doing. And he felt that-- I think he was using us as his cover, like I have the perfect family-- wife, children house, dog. And this is where he wanted to actually be, which isn't a problem. I mean, go and do what you want to do. Don't abuse us over it, because the abuse would get a lot worse when he did these things. So he would go out and, you know, go to bars or where? I don't know that, but I know that he was doing it. I have people that-- witnesses that he was doing this. And so do you think you should go to jail for this? How can anyone go to jail for defending themselves? But if I have to go to jail, then I'd be better off than where I was. And my children would be better off. And they're better off now. OPRAH WINFREY: Jennifer, what do you think? My mother is the nicest person that I know, that I've ever met. She's-- like I said, it was a total shock to me that she would ever hurt anyone. She would never hurt anybody. And anyone who knows her knows that. And I'm so proud of her for what she did. She stood up for herself. And god knows, I might not be-- I probably wouldn't be alive today if it was the other way around. OPRAH WINFREY: Really? So is there any part of you that misses your father? Absolutely not. You have to understand, we lived-- my brother and I lived our lives in constant fear. We couldn't go out. I couldn't go to work and be at work because my mind was at home with my mom, calling her. My brother, I know, would call her from college twice a day. That's not what a 19-year-old kid should do. And calling her, wondering where you are. If she wasn't answering the text messages, it was like, I had to take a walk. I had to call somebody else, to call a neighbor. I had a best friend that lived across the street. Is she home? What's going on? You know? It-- it was constant fear my entire life. I don't-- no part of me misses him. No part of you misses him. Would you say your life is better without him? My life is 150% better. OPRAH WINFREY: Undoubtedly. And you feel that your life, even though you will have to come before a jury soon-- your life is better without him. Yes, absolutely. Thank you for sharing your story. You know, we contacted the district attorney's office to see if they had something to say about Barbara's case, but they're unable to comment at this time. But I thank you for being here today. And thank you, Jennifer. Your message to women who are watching, though, because you know, no one would have been able to say anything to you two years ago-- I mean, if you were home and had yourself sitting in the chair right now, what could you have said that would have reached you? There was nothing that could have reached me because of the situation. OPRAH WINFREY: Because it was too late for you. It was-- it was-- he was the police. He was the person that you're supposed to go to for help. This is what you deal with when it's relationships like this. So you want to say what to those people who you have an opportunity to reach today? Get out of a relationship as soon as the controlling starts. You need to get away because they don't stop, and it gets worse, and it gets worse, and it gets worse. It got to a point where he didn't even care who saw it. He did it in front of my family. He didn't care if anyone saw what he was doing. And that's when I knew that the next step was he was going to kill me.

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