Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

November 25, 2012

No new trial for woman

DETROIT (AP) — A federal appeals court has overturned a 2-year-old decision that granted a new trial to a Detroit-area teacher who hacked her husband to death with a hatchet before she went to school.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman in October 2010 said Nancy Seaman's attorney didn't do enough to develop her claim as a battered spouse. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals this week ruled that Friedman's view of the case was too broad.

Seaman, 60, killed Robert Seaman in 2004 by striking him with a hatchet 16 times and stabbing him at least 21 times in their garage in Farmington Hills. She is serving a life sentence.

The appeals court panel noted that Seaman's trial attorney presented experts who talked about battered spouse syndrome and had argued for such a defense. But the court said, "BSS is not itself a defense under Michigan law."

"Even if the jurors believed that (Seaman) was a battered spouse, they still could have rejected her claim of self-defense," said the ruling, dated Wednesday.

A jury in 2005 convicted Seaman of first-degree murder, but the Oakland County trial judge reduced it to second-degree murder. A state appeals court later reinstated the jury's verdict.

There is no dispute that Seaman killed her husband. She said she was a victim of emotional and physical abuse and was threatened again that day.

Seaman went to school after failing to find a substitute teacher. She returned home, wrapped the body in a tarp and used bleach and paint to get rid of blood stains in the garage. Police responding to a missing person's report eventually found the body in her car trunk.

In his 2010 ruling, Friedman turned aside many of Seaman's arguments in her claim that her constitutional rights had been violated at trial. But he was persuaded that her attorney could have done more.

Lenore Walker, a leading researcher in the field of battered spouse syndrome, testified for Seaman, but didn't interview the defendant.

Still, the federal appeals court panel found in favor of prosecutors.

"We have considered and reject the possibility that (Seaman's) trial was fundamentally unfair because her counsel failed to argue for the admission of evidence that she would have been entitled to as a matter of due process," the 6th Circuit's decision said.

Friedman ordered authorities to put Seaman on trial again, but an appeal froze the process and led to this week's ruling by the 6th Circuit.

"We're pleased a convicted murderer will remain behind bars and public safety will be protected," Joy Yearout, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, said Saturday.

Messages seeking comment were left for Seaman's lawyer.

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