Convicted murderer serving life receives recommendation for sentence commutation by Board of Pardons

John Sheehan convicted of second-degree murder in 1986 deadly shooting of his wife, Monica
John Sheehan, a man serving a life sentence for the April 1986 deadly shooting of his wife, was granted a recommendation of commutation of his sentence.
Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 5:40 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 27, 2022 at 9:14 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (KALB) - On Sept. 19, almost two years after submitting an application for a clemency hearing before the Board of Pardons, John Sheehan, 57, received news that could change the rest of his life. Sheehan is currently housed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

In a unanimous vote, the five-member panel with the Board of Pardons granted a recommendation for commutation of Sheehan’s life sentence to 99 years with eligibility for parole. That recommendation will be passed on to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who will make the final decision.

Sheehan, who has served almost 36 years in prison, was convicted of second-degree murder for the May 1986 deadly shooting of his wife, Monica Jeansonne Sheehan, 19. He claims he was cleaning his father’s shotgun when it accidentally discharged, the bullet striking Monica in her chest. The Avoyelles Parish coroner at the time ruled the shooting accidental.

The Sheehans, who lived in Florida at the time while John was serving in the U.S. Air Force, were in Louisiana visiting family. The shooting happened at John’s grandmother’s house. She, along with the Sheehans’ eight-month-old son, were in the house when the shooting occurred.

Though September’s hearing resulted in the Board of Pardon’s approval, it was not the first time Sheehan has fought for freedom since his arrest in 1986.

On Nov. 19, 1986, Sheehan was found guilty of second-degree murder. Evidence presented during that trial showed John purchased two life insurance policies on his wife, totaling $125,000 two weeks before her death, signing her name to one. The coroner in the trial, Dr. F.P Bordelon, testified that the bullet path found in the victim’s autopsy did not match Sheehan’s story. Further testimony showed the couple was having financial and marital problems.

Sheehan appealed that conviction, and it was overturned by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal after finding a statement credited to Sheehan and used in the trial was inadmissible. The court ordered Sheehan to be retried.

He was granted a new trial, and in April 1988, he was again found guilty of second-degree murder in a 10-2 verdict by a 12th Judicial District Court jury.

However, in November 1988, the State Supreme Court once again granted a new hearing for his request for a new trial, concerning defense evidence not connected with the shooting of Sheehan’s wife. This time, the defense’s concerns surrounded a juror’s involvement with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office and other jurors’ prior knowledge of the case.

In January 1989, 12th Judicial District Judge Harold Brouillette denied John’s request for a new trial.

Sheehan been serving his sentence ever since, but he is now hoping to one day be free.

“No words can ever convey how sorry, how remorseful I am, how much I wish that there was some way that I could take away the pain from my son and from my in-laws,” said Sheehan to the Board. “It’s something that I can only put in God’s hands.”

Several people testified in support of John’s request, including multiple wardens, all who detailed his leadership while serving time. He helped facilitate re-entry automotive programs in the 1990s. He also earned a degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to serve as a chaplain and missionary in Louisiana prisons.

Sheehan described himself as a “helpless wreck” and “selfish person” in 1986, but since then, everything he has done “has been what God has done through [him].”

Although there were still questions surrounding his story of what happened during the shooting, Sheehan said that he was responsible for his wife’s death and nobody else was, and “nobody deserved to die that way.”

On the idea that the life insurance policies made the shooting seem planned, Sheehan said, “I have no explanation except to say, I know how it appears, and I’m deeply sorry for how it appears.”

The only person to speak in opposition to Sheehan’s request was Marie McDowell, the victim’s mother. Monica was McDowell’s only child.

McDowell claimed Sheehan abused his wife, beating her at their house in Florida. She said she tried to convince her daughter to leave him, finding bullet holes in the walls of their Florida home where he had shot at her before. She claims Sheehan told the victim’s father he hated her and wanted her out of his life.

“He’s asking for clemency,” said McDowell to the Board. “He’s asking for his life back, but my daughter doesn’t have that chance. He took that away from her when he killed her.”

McDowell said Sheehan’s expression of remorse was the first time he had ever said he was remorseful in 36 years.

In the Board’s vote, all members agreed they could not argue that the Sheehan before them was a different man, and while they sympathized with McDowell, they all recommended commutation of Sheehan’s sentence.

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