Psychiatrist Backs Up Killer's Battered Woman's Syndrome Defense

September 18, 1991|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

When Beverly Seward fatally shot Archie White once in the heart following an evening of violence in their North Laurel town house, there was "no question" she was suffering from battered woman's syndrome, according to the testimony of a forensic psychiatrist.

Dr. Ellen McDaniel, testifying for the defense yesterday at Seward's sentencing hearing in county Circuit Court, said that the couple's violent relationship created a "traumatic bond" that made it impossible for Seward to leave White when she had the chance.

"When she was given the opportunity to leave that evening, she was still bonded to Archie White and couldn't grab the moment," McDaniel said of the night of the shooting.

"Her taking the gun was directly related to her fear of being harmed by Archie White," McDaniel said.

Seward pleaded guilty in May to second-degree murder in the July 29, 1989, shooting of White, 37, whom she had lived with for 12 years. The state is seeking a sentence of 12 years.

Based on interviews with Seward, McDaniel concluded that she fit the profile of someone suffering from battered woman's syndrome. McDaniel testified that Seward felt so emotionally bonded to White she became convinced she couldn't leave the relationship or tell others about the abuse.

"Itbecomes very embarrassing and humiliating to tell friends and familyif one feels responsible for being mistreated and unloveable," McDaniel said.

In the last year of her relationship with White, the physical abuse intensified, McDaniel said.

Seward locked her bedroom door at night but occasionally White broke it open and demanded to have sex with her. After Seward had foot surgery in early 1989, White dragged Seward around their house by her good foot, McDaniel said.

Seward's sister, Barbara Culp, said that Seward came to her house in 1989 wearing sunglasses to hide her swollen face.

"She started talking about the problems Archie and she were having -- never physical abuse, just that she wanted to get out," Culp said.

McDaniel and other defense witnesses at the hearing, including Seward's family members, spoke of Seward's troubled background.

They testified that asa young girl, she was sexually abused by her father and other men inher neighborhood. Seward became pregnant at age 14 after she was raped and later became a heroin addict.

Senior assistant state's attorney Kate O'Donnell has disputed Seward's claims that she suffered from battered woman's syndrome. O'Donnell said that Seward has changed her story to fit the description of the syndrome.

The state will present testimony Thursday from a psychiatrist who, after interviewingSeward, concluded that she did not suffer from battered woman's syndrome.

The syndrome has become a controversial issue in recent years. Its supporters say it is a legitimate psychological condition, butcritics question the syndrome's credibility in the scientific community.

The state enacted a law this spring allowing expert testimonyabout the battered woman's syndrome in state courts.

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