Defending battered women for three decades, Michael G. Dowd seems like a perfect candidate to represent Barbara Sheehan, the Queens mother on trial for the murder of his husband.
“It is very emotionally difficult to take such cases; they really get to me,” Dowd told the New York Times.
With the 69-year-old Bayside resident adding: “This may be my last one.”
Described by the New York Times as a “a lanky and ruddy-faced Irish son of Queens”, over the course of his successful career, he has defended nearly two dozen women who murdered their husbands, only one of whom served prison time. His legal defense style is the “battered-woman defense”, in which wives of domestic abuse, recount in elaborate detail the horror of the abuse suffered to prove to the jury they feared for their life and acted in self defense.
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In his latest case he is defending Barbara Sheehan, who shot her husband Raymond 11 times on Febraury 18, 2008. A former NYPD sergeant, he had been shaving in the family bathroom and allegedly pointed a gun at her, before she opened fire in what she says was self defense. Both her son and daughter have testified in her defense.
Dowd, himself grew up on Ireland Street in a working class family in Elmhurst.
He was involved in a corruptions scandal in 1986 after he blew the whistle on the company he worked for. Being a victim of extortion has helped him relate to women who are victims of domestic abuse.
“Men don’t often get into a position where they feel helpless,” he said. “Understanding that feeling gave me insight into what it feels like to be completely trapped, just like an abused woman.”
Dowd said social attitudes towards abused women have radically changed since he began defending such cases in the 1980s. According to the attorney, back then prosecutors would have justified abuse over such issues as a woman’s bad housekeeping and bad cooking.
He has also defended American members of the IRA, who were caught smuggling arms into Northen Ireland in the 1980s.