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Domestic Violence Expert Takes Stand on Behalf of Woman Accused of Murder in New Zealand


This week, Jessica Keefe, a New Zealand woman who is on trial for murdering Sean Verma, is presenting testimony by a domestic violence expert about Ms. Keefe’s state of mind at the time of the alleged stabbing. Earlier in the trial, the prosecutor described the relationship between Ms. Keefe and Mr. Verma as having been violent.

Typically, domestic violence experts testify about the characteristics of a battering relationship that identifies Battered Woman’s Syndrome such as the cycle of violence and the learned helplessness that emotionally paralyzes the victim.

There is ample precedent for using battered women’s syndrome as a defense to murder. In 2011, in New York’s Supreme Court, a jury acquitted Barbara Sheehan of murder in a trial that was seen by some people as a referendum on battered-woman syndrome. During the month-long Sheehan trial, which garnered international publicity, Ms. Sheehan admitted to shooting her husband, but testified that she did so after suffering years of his abuse and threats.

We should know relatively soon whether Ms. Keefe will have the same success as Ms. Sheehan. Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow.

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