In 2004, Nancy Seaman killed her husband by hacking at him approximately 20 times with a hatchet. Now, the judge who presided over her trial says that Seaman should be set free. Follow along to learn why Judge John McDonald went from jailer to advocate.
Nancy Seaman Kills Her Husband
In Farmington Hills, Michigan in 2004, Nancy Seaman killed her husband. According to her, she had no other choice and the killing was in self-defense. According to prosecutors, it was premeditated murder.
Nancy Seaman married Bob Seaman in 1972. Shortly afterward, she claimed, he started to mentally and physically abuse her. Despite this, the couple went on to have two children and stayed together until 2004.
Nancy claims that the abuse got worse when she began to work as a teacher in 1995 and Bob lost his job. Coworkers of Nancy’s later testified that there were numerous occasions where she came to work with bruises or black eyes. One of their sons, Greg, also testified that his father abused his mother.
By 2004, the marriage had fallen apart. Nancy and Bob were still living in the same home, but on separate floors. On Monday, May 10, 2004, Bob began a fight with Nancy over her moving out of the home. Nancy alleged that Bob was holding a kitchen knife and chased her into the garage.
In the garage, Nancy found a hatchet and attacked her husband, hitting him at least 20 times. She wrapped her dead husband in a tarp with duct tape, returning to her job as a teacher the very same day as a substitute teacher couldn’t be found.
By Wednesday, people began to notice that Bob was missing. When police came to question Nancy, Bob’s body was discovered in the back of her Ford Explorer, as well as a knife. Nancy was charged with first-degree murder.
The Prosecution’s Case
While Nancy claimed self-defense, the prosecution had a different version of events. According to officials, she planned the murder of Bob Seaman. Surveillance from a local Home Depot showed her purchasing a hatchet, as well as duct tape, the tarp, and cleaning products like bleach before Bob’s death.
Police alleged that Nancy attacked Bob in the kitchen with the hatchet, and then dragged the body to the garage where she finished the job with a knife and a sledgehammer. They believed Bob’s body was then wrapped in the tarp with duct tape and placed in the Explorer.
As for motive, despite the fact that Nancy was planning to leave Bob, the prosecution argued that Bob had planned to leave Nancy first. Enraged by this, as well as the notion that Bob might have been having an affair with a woman named Julie Dumbleton, whose family was introduced to the Seamans through Bob, Nancy decided to kill her husband.
From Judge to Advocate
On November 29, 2004, Nancy Seaman’s trial began with Judge John McDonald presiding. In 2005, a jury of Nancy’s peers found her guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced her to life in prison.
Eight months later, something interesting happened. Judge McDonald overturned the jury’s original conviction in favor of second-degree murder due to, in his opinion, a lack of evidence to support a first-degree verdict. This new verdict allowed Nancy to apply for parole after 10 years.
It is rare that a judge overturns such a conviction, but McDonald was convinced that the jury did not have the full story of Seaman’s abusive situation. She never denied that she killed her husband, just the reason why.
As a trial judge, McDonald oversaw 20 cases. This is the only one where he felt the jury got it wrong.
While McDonald’s new verdict was later overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2010, he became a strong advocate for Seaman’s release. McDonald contends that if the jury had heard more from a domestic violence expert, they might have passed down a different verdict. And McDonald isn’t alone.
After the original conviction was reinstated, Judge Bernard Friedman declared that Nancy Seaman deserved a new trial or should be freed. A federal appeals court denied Nancy a new trial.
Battered Woman Syndrome
At the heart of the matter is the psychological condition referred to as battered woman syndrome. Battered woman syndrome is considered a sub-category of PTSD, and it is believed to be a result of the cumulative effects of abuse, rather than one single act. In Nancy Seaman’s case, it wasn’t one fight that led her to attack her husband in such a violent manner; it was all of the fights before it.
While battered woman syndrome is allowable as a defense in certain places, Michigan state law does not allow it. This was the main reason why Seaman was not granted a second trial where an expert could have talked about how battered woman syndrome might have applied to her.
Strong Support for Commuting Her Sentence
John McDonald is no longer a judge; he left the bench in 2010, but he hasn’t stopped believing that Nancy Seaman should be freed. Last year, he wrote to the governor about commuting Nancy’s sentence.
McDonald and Dr. Nels Thompson, a psychologist who worked with Seaman and the department of corrections, both contributed to videos asking for her release.
To that end, Nancy Seaman hopes to be free one day. But while she asserts that she did not purposely set out to murder Bob, she has taken responsibility for his death. As she told NBC news, “Commutation is an act of mercy. It doesn’t absolve someone of guilt.”