Woman's Murder Trial Postponed For Ruling On Expert Testimony

Battered-spouse Defense Debated

January 30, 1991

The trial of a North Laurel woman charged in the murder of her common-law husband has been postponed until May 29 to determine whether expert testimony on battered spouse syndrome will be allowed as evidence.

Beverly Seward had been scheduled to stand trial today for the fatal shooting of Archie White on July 29. Seward claims White beat her over a 10-year period and that she shot him in self-defense.

At a hearing yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Raymond J. Kane foundthat "good cause" exists to postpone the case.

"Both parties needguidance from the court as to the type of evidence that will be allowed at trial," Kane said.

Prosecutor Kate O'Donnell requested a postponement after learning in a newspaper article about Seward's case that her defense attorney planned to present expert testimony on battered spouse syndrome as part of her defense.

O'Donnell said the state intends to prove Seward did not suffer from battered-spouse syndrome and needs time to conduct its own psychiatric evaluation of Seward.

"We want our own expert witness in this case. This is more thanan academic exercise," O'Donnell said. "We don't believe that Beverly Seward is a battered spouse."

O'Donnell also expressed concern about the Jan. 27 newspaper article in The Howard County Sun that included an interview with Seward, saying it would impede the selection of an impartial jury.

"It does impact greatly on the ability to pick a jury," she said.

Richard Bernhardt, Seward's public defender, objected to the postponement, saying that the state had enough time to prepare its own expert testimony.

The trial judge, Cornelius Sybert, plans to schedule a separate hearing to determine whether testimony about battered spouse syndrome will be allowed.

Maryland courts have consistently refused to allow evidence of physical abuse or expert testimony on battered-spouse syndrome at trials of women accusedof killing their abusers. In the past two years, state legislators have twice rejected bills that would have forced courts to hear such evidence of physical abuse, but they are now considering a new versionof the proposal.

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