Woman acquitted in murder of husband

March 26, 1981

Jury accepts defense of ‘battered woman’s syndrome’

On March 26, 1981, Dorothy Rapp was pulled from her bed and mercilessly beaten. Her assailant was her husband who ripped clumps of hair from her head and threatened her life, allegedly because she did not complete a household task. Ms. Rapp then shot and killed her husband. She was subsequently charged with murder.

At trial, Hackensack attorney Frank P. Lucianna introduced evidence showing that Ms. Rapp was the victim of a decades long abusive relationship, and that the trauma she experienced that night was not unlike many other nights in her marriage. He was assisted by his law clerk, Kevin G. Roe, who conducted research of cases nationwide and authored a brief demonstrating that the defense of battered woman syndrome should be allowed at trial.

For the first time in the State of New Jersey, the Honorable Fred C. Galda, J.S.C. of the Bergen County Superior Court allowed the so-called battered woman’s defense, in which a victim of domestic violence who suffers from a long term pattern of abuse may claim self-defense when it is apparent that person is unable effectively escape.

After deliberating for two hours, a jury acquitted Ms. Rapp of murder. The case stands as a land mark in New Jersey law and the law of self-defense.