NEW YORK – Jennifer and Raymond Sheehan say their lives changed forever — for the better — the day their mother shot their retired police officer father to death.
Neither witnessed the shooting on Feb. 18, 2008. When they got the call, they expected to hear that their mother was dead. They figured her end was only a matter of time after years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their father, Raymond Sr.
So when Raymond Jr. learned it was his dad who was dead, he felt an immense relief. « Like a weight lifted off my shoulders, » he said.
But there was more stress to come. Their mother, Barbara, would be tried for murder and their family’s dark, disturbing secrets would be cracked open in court.
Less than a year after Barbara Sheehan was acquitted for fatally shooting her husband 11 times at their Queens home, her children have published a book about the ordeal.
« In Bed With the Badge: The Barbara Sheehan Story » goes on sale Tuesday. It details her life and descent into abuse and despair, and includes notes and recollections from Raymond and Jennifer and from family friends who witnessed the abuse.
The two siblings said they focused the account on their mother — and not their own experience — because they hoped her story would serve as a cautionary tale for other abused women and help them see the early warning signs.
« Going through everything after my mom killed my father, living their experiences, we wanted to show other people the importance of getting out of a bad relationship before it’s too late, » Raymond Sheehan said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The 22-year-old took the stand in his mother’s defense last fall during the trial, which was much more difficult than writing the book, he said. He was grilled on his childhood and admitted on the stand that he thought of suicide, telling of horrific memories where his mother was burned by scalding pasta sauce thrown by his angry father.
« All the personal stuff came out in the trial. That was the big thing, » he said. « The book felt almost easy. »
The trial was brutal for the family. Jennifer and Raymond took leave from school and from work to be with their mother, who was out on bail after mortgaging two family homes. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends filled the courtroom seats, many donning purple — the color for domestic violence.
And dirty laundry was aired. Jurors heard of the elder Raymond’s consistent threats, his physical and verbal abuse, and bizarre sexual habits he forced on his wife, as Barbara and her children testified that he created a culture of fear at home. They said they never told anyone, especially the police, because he said he would kill them if they did.
Prosecutors argued Barbara was a woman happy with her life and a willing participant in her husband’s sexual proclivities. They suggested she killed her husband for money. Friends testified the couple seemed normal and happy, and they did not suspect anything violent at home.
But the elder Raymond’s children said the 49-year-old former police sergeant put on a nicer face for the public.
In their book, the siblings explore the question of why their mother would stay with an abusive man for more than 20 years. They interviewed her about her past and learned of his manipulative behavior as far back as the first dates.
« I think after this all happened and she realized how bad the psychological and physical abuse was that she was going through even then, she started thinking back and realizing `Oh, this wasn’t normal, »‘ said Jennifer Sheehan, 26.
The 250-page book includes a robust appendix. « Domestic Violence, How to get Help, Cops as Abusers and other statistics » is designed to give readers some helpful tools, Jennifer Sheehan said.
« We want people to know the signs of what an abuser is and what they do to control you, even from the very beginning, » she said.
Raymond is getting married and will be in graduate school in New York in the fall. Jennifer lives in San Diego and works as an oncology nurse. Barbara Sheehan, 50, convicted on one weapons charge and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison, is out on bail while appealing her conviction.
Barbara Sheehan didn’t comment for this story. Her children said she was happy with the book.
A call to Raymond Sheehan’s brother Vincent was not returned.
Changing Lives Press is the book publisher. The book costs $24.99. It also will be available as an e-book.