Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Domestic Violence Leads to Manslaughter Conviction

(Link) Said a friend of longtime couple: "These were two intelligent and articulate women who loved each other very much, so we all still can't understand why it ended like this."

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:

A Yonkers woman who fatally shot her longtime partner on Christmas Eve was convicted of first-degree manslaughter yesterday on the fifth day of deliberations by a jury that rejected her claim of self-defense.

Helen Chumbley admitted killing Barbara Shollar during an argument Dec. 24, 2004 at their Sunlight Hill home, but insisted that she feared for her life and was a victim of battered women's syndrome after years of physical and mental abuse by Shollar. She claimed Shollar lunged at her, and she believed that her lover was going to force her to kill herself after she told Chumbley to get their gun because she was worthless.

The jury acquitted Chumbley, 59, of second-degree murder, finding that she had not intended to kill Shollar. But she faces at least five years and a maximum of 25 years in prison. She had been free on bail, but Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli ordered her held at the county jail for sentencing Jan. 24.

Yvonne Simons, a friend of Shollar's, said she was stunned and devastated by the killing, but satisfied with the verdict.

"These were two intelligent and articulate women who loved each other very much, so we all still can't understand why it ended like this," Simons said. "I don't think Helen was a bad person, but she should be punished for taking the life of this very special person."

The jury began deliberating last Tuesday morning, and asked Zambelli four times to repeat her legal instructions on self-defense, or justification. Defense lawyer Lawrence Hochheiser said he had mixed emotions about the verdict, relieved that Chumbley would not face a life sentence, but disappointed that jurors did not grasp the full toll of Shollar's abuse.

The couple had a two-year relationship in the early 1980s, reunited in 1994 and moved to Yonkers in the late 1990s. Shollar was an educational consultant and active in Westchester's gay community organizations. Chumbley worked for the teachers' pension fund TIAA-CREF and was a contributor to Columbia Encyclopedia.

The shooting occurred in the backyard, and police found the body after Chumbley's relatives in Tennessee called to report she had told them she shot Shollar.

Assistant District Attorney Keary Neary said Chumbley's own testimony proved the killing was not justified because she acknowledged that Shollar never touched the gun and was "a distance away." But Neary and Assistant District Attorney Michael Borrelli also relied on physical evidence. Shollar's hand was inside her pocket when she was found, indicating she had not lunged at her killer. And the only gunshot residue was on Shollar's back, where a third bullet penetrated — an indication Chumbley was closing in on Shollar as she emptied the gun of five bullets.

"A shot in the back when you're going down is not self-defense," Neary told the jury. "Is there any question who was the only one holding that gun in the backyard when Barbara ended up dead...(Helen) wasn't afraid of Barbara. She'd had it with her."

But Hochheiser argued that Chumbley was truly fearful and had no recollection of firing the .38 caliber revolver because of the trauma Shollar put her through.

"This is a woman of peaceable character. She's not a murderer, a killer," Hochheiser told the jury.

There was no history of domestic-violence complaints, but a psychologist for the defense said that was typical of battered women who feel helpless to get out of troubled relationships.

Neary argued that Chumbley may have had a history of depression but that she was not someone who wilted under Shollar's control. The prosecutor described her as a courageous lesbian who counseled others on how to be strong and handle difficult issues involving their sexual orientation. She said Chumbley's complaints of slaps and punches by Shollar did not make her a battered woman and that her claim to be one was an insult to women who were truly victims.

To accept self-defense, the jury had to find not only that Chumbley believed she was in imminent danger, but that the belief was reasonable. Hochheiser said jurors afterwards said they could not accept that Chumbley had no other option when she was the only one with the gun.