The Sam Sheppard Case
Allison Haber, Renu Kapur, Brian Perry, and Jason Schwartz

The Sam Sheppard case was an example of trial in the public arena, specifically the outrageous behavior of the press. The salacious aspects of the case as it involved a beautiful murder victim, a well educated handsome husband who claimed that a mysterious stranger committed the brutal crime, and the overall sensationalist atmosphere surrounding the case helped to encourage the media in its feeding frenzy. An example of the media's ability to foment controversy was a front page editorial about Dr. Sheppard. The editorial claimed that Sheppard, "[e]xcept for some superficial questioning during Coroner Sam Gerber's inquest has been scottfree of any official grilling" (Van Alstyne, 90). The headline over this editorial, "Why Isn't Sam Sheppard in Jail?," clearly shows the bias of the media against Dr. Sheppard. This was a typical example of the prejudicial stance that was adopted in this case. The wide spread influence of the media no doubt contributed to the inability for Dr. Sheppard to receive an unbiased trial from a jury of his peers.

The onslaught of media was abetted by the failure of the court to take appropriate steps to reign in media sensationalism. Judge Clark never ordered the jury to be sequestered or instructed the jury to ignore all news outlets, in spite of the wide spread publicity and public opinion marshaled against Dr. Sheppard. "Now proved to be a liar, still free to go about his business, shielded by his family, protected by a smart lawyer who has made monkeys of the police and authorities, carrying a gun part of the time, left free to do whatever he pleases"(Van Alstyne 90). The previous quote, charged with inflammatory language and championing the image of Sheppard as a gun-toting, charming, Lothario who outwitted the bumbling police force was guaranteed to turn public opinion against the accused. The power of the media to shape opinions and even to alter objective reality itself, as in the first O.J. Simpson trial and, more recently the Au Pair trial is testament to the caution that the media should take when reporting on the guilt or innocence of any accused defendant. The media surrounding the Sheppard trial was unable and unwilling to distance itself from the events of the trial itself, forfeiting its position as an unbiased observer and recorder for the public good. A typical code of conduct for a news-gathering organization includes a statement such as, "We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of quality, honesty and integrity in its programming. All employees are required to use their best efforts to insure that no false, misleading or deceptive information in program matter is broadcast" (TVSD).

Although it is difficult for the media which is the mouthpiece of the public to be objective, it is crucial when dealing with a person's life, as in the case of a murder trial. Inflammatory rhetoric such as, "Study the face as long as you want. You will never get a hint of what might be the answer" (Van Alstyne, 91), when referring to Dr. Sheppard at his trial, were calculated to prejudice jurors and the jury against believing in Sheppard's innocence. The accumulated weight of the media's bias against Dr. Sheppard resulted in the "painting" of the prospective jury pool. Assuredly, the painted jury pool contributed to the obvious unfair trial to which Sheppard was subjected.

The inability of the court, in the person of Judge Clark to control the enthusiasms of the media was a clear failure of the judicial system. Although, "the court can't control everybody" (Van Alstyne, 92), and the pretrial publicity was out of the purview of the court, Judge Clark did not take steps to reduce the influence of the media in his courtroom. The media while not allowed in the court room itself, were given free access to all the jurors, including taking individual pictures and publishing them. In addition, the whole jury pool had access to various newspapers during the deliberation process, which undoubtedly influenced their opinions on the Sheppard case. It is not surprising that Dr. Sheppard was found guilty of the murder of his wife in the face of the unrelenting and biased media coverage that immersed the trial.

Modern day media have a greater awareness of the issues of ethics, integrity and responsibility of journalists to remain impartial. Most news organizations have instilled a code of conduct for their employees to follow to maintain the stance of a disinterested observer. "All employees' business activities must be conducted in full compliance with both the spirit and the letter of all applicable laws and regulations and the policies and procedures set forth in Integrity: The Spirit and the Letter of Our Commitments. Also courts have been much more sensitive to protecting rights of criminal defendants in such cases. Each employee is expected to serve the company with good judgment, discretion and integrity" (TVSD). Part of serving a news organization is to uphold the image of the news gathering outlet as a reporter of the news and not necessarily a shaper of opinions. The moment that news organizations start becoming a focal point of events instead of simply reporting on them, as the media did in the case of Dr. Sheppard, the public loses confidence in the unwritten agreement between themselves and the media. This agreement, that the public will rely upon the media for uncensored and unexpurgated news while the media enjoy the trust of the public, is at the heart of the media's singular position both as a critic and member of the Establishment.

The neglect of this agreement has lead to the vilification of the media as being too quick to play "judge, jury and executioner" when dealing with criminal and civil cases. An example of this is the Richard Jewel case. In 1996, following the explosion of a bomb in Atlanta's Freedom Plaza, the media, led by the Atlanta Constitution proceeded to brand Mr. Jewel as the bomber without any proof whatsoever. In spite of the fact that he was never more than a suspect in the FBI investigation, the newspapers and television outlets made Richard Jewel not only the primary, but the most likely perpetrator of the bombing. Mr. Jewel endured six months of media harassment and hounding before he was cleared by the FBI.

The premature judgment on the part of the media in the case of Richard Jewel, caused the public to sympathize with the often overbearing and at times intrusiveness of the media. The tendency of the press to pronounce itself the ultimate judge of the events it covers tends to reduce public trust in the motives of the media. As we see in the Sheppard case, when the media has an "axe" to grind, it can be quite the influential force, swaying public opinion and even influencing those who are supposedly unimpeachable, such as officers of the court.

If the media covering the Sheppard trial were beholden to a code such as the following one enumerated by NBC, "Under our judicial system, verdicts must be based on evidence heard in the courtroom. As a consequence, if we report information which would not be legally admissible or available in the courtroom, it may have prejudicial impact on the judicial proceedings if broadcast before a jury is empaneled. The potential conflict between the right to a fair trial and the right of the public to be fully informed cannot be resolved by broad rules. Instead, it is our obligation, in each situation, to seek a fair balance by a specific assessment of the particular circumstances. When in doubt, consult the appropriate Executive Producer or Managing Editor or other supervising producer, who may then choose to take the matter to the News Director and the NBC Law Department" (TVSD), it is likely that the circus atmosphere that surrounded the Sheppard trial would have been largely avoided. As the excerpt shows, when a commitment is made to ensure fair and unbiased reporting in court cases, it is more likely that juror pools will be untainted with prejudicial and scurrilous information either in favor of or against the plaintiff. The notion of an unbiased trial by a jury of one's peers is at the heart of the American Judicial System, and whenever an institution has the ability to negatively influence that central notion, it should be very careful with the way it exercises its power.

In the first Sheppard trial, Dr. Sheppard was convicted of his wife's murder. The resulting outcry that the media had unfairly influenced the jury and the trial judge was impetus for an appeal of the original conviction on the grounds that the trial was unfair and tainted with prejudicial publicity. The outcome of this appeal reversed the original conviction. Dr. Sheppard was retried and found not guilty, thus being released from prison after serving ten years.

The operative lesson that we can take from the Sheppard trials is that the attention of the media, while it can serve as a necessary spotlight to illuminate and uncover hidden facts, can also give undeserved prominence to gossip, innuendo and plain misconception. Of course, these things are the very opposite of what the Judicial System strives for in conducting a trial. Therefore, we must be very careful in both the manner and access that we allow the media in covering any civil or criminal court situation.

With respect to the media, the Sam Sheppard case changed dramatically from its initial reports. The Beacon JournalNewspaper Website has dedicated a nine part series about the events that unfolded in the case. Keith McKnight wrote two articles that will be explored here, "Sam Sheppard Fought Two Battles," and "Sheppard Goes to Trial During A Different Legal Era."

On July 5, 1954 the Beacon Journal, one of the Cleveland area newspapers, offered up this account of the Sheppard murder events. "CLEVELAND: A jewel thief clubbed the wife of a suburban doctor to death Sunday when she discovered him in her home and severely injured her husband when he came to her rescue. Dr. Samuel Sheppard was taken to Bayview Hospital with head and neck injuries" (McKnight, 7/1/96). Dr. Sheppard told the police his story of struggling with a bushy-haired man in his home until he was knocked out by the assailant. The first account would have faded away with history if the police believed Dr. Sheppard's story. Unfortunately, they focused in on him as the only suspect.

As one opinion would have it, the police were just as guilty as the media was in creating a circus-like atmosphere surrounding the Sheppard murder trial. The media picked up on the police suspicions and started printing any and everything that could, and did, damage Sam Sheppard's life. They believed the statement made by police detective Robert Schottke when he said, "I think you are the one who killed your wife," and they printed it in the press as well. They wondered in the papers and on television why would a doctor need a criminal defense attorney like William Corrigan if he wasn't guilty of something. This, however, was only the beginning.

On July 7, 1954, a wire service report came out. It said, "Dr. Sheppard has been kept in seclusion at his father's hospital in suburban Bay Village since the murder Sunday and has been able to give police only a vague and sometimes incoherent account" (McKnight, 7/2/96).

The prosecutor in this case felt his time to use the papers was now, and he stated for the public, "In my 23 years of criminal prosecutor's I have never seen such flagrant stalling as in this case by the family of Dr. Samuel Sheppard" (McKnight, 7/2/96). This established how the prosecuting office felt and they were trying, and succeeding, in winning public approval for their betrayal of Sam Sheppard. The prosecution was putting Sam Sheppard on trial through the newspaper first in order to win their case in court.

As the police and the press were trying to piece this murder together they figured out that there must have been marital problems. Then stepped in Susan Hayes. She admitted to an affair with Sam Sheppard and now the police and the media had evidence that Sheppard had lied twice, once about the affair and once under oath. The nine part story on the Beacon Journal Website said it best, "The search for other lovers was on, and Sam Sheppard's unfaithfulness had become a probable cause for murder. Cleveland's three newspapers were on red alert, and the media siege that lasted into Christmas that year generated a trial the U.S. Supreme Court would brand as bedlam 'because it was surrounded by massive, pervasive prejudicial publicity'" (McKnight, 7/2/96).

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff Joseph Sweeney even told the now defunct Cleveland Press that he never saw a "better cover-up" in his 51 years on the force. Publication of such statements obviously set up the case to be prejudicial to possible jurors. The worst and most prejudicial information that destroyed Sam Sheppard in the eyes of the public were the editorials printed in the three Cleveland area newspapers. The aforementioned defunct Cleveland Press wrote, "The investigative authorities were slow in getting started, fumbling when they did, awkward in breaking through the protective barriers of the family, and far less aggressive than they should have been in following out clues, trails, and evidence" (McKnight, 7/2/96). The editor of that paper, Louis B. Seltzer, later became the ring leader for the press' attacks on the Sheppard case. He wrote a front page editorial on July 20, 1954 titled "Somebody Is Getting Away With Murder," about how he felt Sheppard was trying to deceive the public. The very next day the Cleveland Newssuggested, "We are forced to take note that Dr. Samuel Sheppard has rejected suggestions of both lie detector and truth serum tests and has submitted to questioning only when his family and his lawyer have agreed he might" (McKnight, 7/2/96).

The most unbelievable thing the newspapers and media were able to get away with was the public hearing. On national television Coroner Samuel R. Gerber convened the hearing. The Cleveland Press reported, "The audience of more than 200, mostly Bay Village housewives, applauded when William Corrigan, Dr. Sam's attorney, was forcibly ejected from the hearing after insisting vigorously on his right to insert remarks into the record. Coroner Samuel R. Gerber, who ordered Corrigan's expulsion, was hugged, kissed and cheered by the spectators after he recessed the three-day hearing to be reconvened later at the County Morgue" (McKnight, 7/2/96).

Unbelievably, for five hours this Coroner, who was not a lawyer, fired questions at Sheppard and forced him to answer them without his attorney present. This should have never been allowed to take place, especially not on television. This event proved that there was no way Sam Sheppard would ever receive a fair trial in this county. What made this event worse was when the Cleveland Press wrote about how they thought it was unfair that Sheppard was being given too much leeway as a murder suspect. Later that day he was arrested.

It's unfathomable that the media were allowed to get away with such injustice. Sam Sheppard could have never received a fair trial because of what the writers and television stations in Cleveland and the surrounding area did to this case. Indicative of the press influence, a U.S. District Trial Judge, Carl Weinman, wrote an editorial the day the trial began titled "Who Will Speak For Marilyn?" in which he "literally screamed" for the conviction of Sam Sheppard. With all of the attention the media, press, and now a Federal Judge had placed on this case, it's no wonder that Sam Sheppard was convicted of second degree murder of his wife.

In closing this section it is important to read the following account that Dorothy Kilgallen, a syndicated news columnist from New York, gave to the Beacon Journal.

[Kilgallen] said she was summoned to [Presiding Judge Edward] Blythin's chambers to satisfy the judge's curiosity as to why she was flying back and forth between New York and Cleveland to watch a murder trial: "I said: 'Well, it has all the ingredients of what in the newspaper business we call a good murder. It has a very attractive victim, who was pregnant, and the accused is a very important member of the community, respectable, very attractive man.' "And I said: 'Then added to that, you have the fact that it is a mystery as to who did it.' "And Judge Blythin said, 'Mystery? It's an open and shut case." According to Kilgallen, when she asked him to explain what he meant, the judge responded: 'Well, he's guilty as hell. There's no question about it." Kilgallen said that conversation took place on the very first day of the nine-week trial (McKnight, 7/2/96).

On July 14, 1964, almost ten years after Dr. Sheppard's last appeal to the Supreme Court, his case again re-surfaced. This time, Sheppard brought suit against E.L. Maxwell, the warden of the Ohio penitentiary where Sheppard was located, for a writ of habeas corpus, which is a writ supporting a release from unlawful imprisonment Sheppard v. Maxwell, 231 F. Supp. 37). This case was heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. This Court found that the petitioner, Dr. Sheppard was "denied his constitutional right to a fair trial" (Sheppard v. Maxwell, 231 F. Supp. 37, 72, S.D. OH 1964). The Court outlined five specific constitutional violations: failure to grant a change of venue due to the unfavorable publicity both before and after trial; inability to find and keep an impartial jury after the Court allowed the press to influence their perceptions; failure of the trial judge to step down due to his preconceived ideas about the accused; improperly allowing a lie detector test into testimony; and unauthorized communications between the jurors and outside sources during deliberation times. The Court concluded that the "judgment and sentence in pursuance to which respondent [held] petitioner in custody is void" and since Sheppard had already been incarcerated for almost ten years, he was to be released. The Court did give Maxwell and the State of Ohio sixty days to take further action regarding this decision. If the State did not act within the sixty day period, the petitioner's release was "final and unconditional" (231 F. Supp. 37, 72).

The State did take action within the restricted time period and on May 5, 1965, appealed the District Court's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. This Court reversed the lower court's decision and left "directions to discharge the writ and remand the petitioner to custody" (Sheppard v. Maxwell, 346 F. 2d 707, 6th Cir. 1965). The Court of Appeals noted that the case was surrounded by publicity but Sheppard's writ did not uphold the burden of proving that his trial was unconstitutional. Maxwell's judgment for freedom was extremely short lived. His life sentence was ordered to continue.

Sheppard did not stop after this upsetting decision. He petitioned to the Supreme Court of the United States and on November 28, 1966, Sheppard began again to argue his habeas corpus proceeding. The major issue on appeal was whether Sheppard was deprived of a fair trial in his State conviction for the second-degree murder of his wife because of the trial judge's failure to protect Sheppard sufficiently from the massive, pervasive and prejudicial publicity that attended his prosecution (384 U.S. 333).

The Supreme Court carefully looked at all the events surrounding the Sheppard case in order to make a precise determination. The Court first assessed the activities of the press. Even before Sheppard was formally charged with the murder of his wife, the media were allowed access to evidence. The "newspaper photographers and reporters were permitted access to Sheppard's home from time to time and took pictures through the premises" (384 U.S. 333, 336). The day Sheppard was subpoenaed to answer questions pertaining to his wife's death, the media were allowed to view and tape this session. The media were even allowed to watch while the police searched him. Also during this interrogation session, the State Coroner questioned Sheppard for five and one-half hours, often focusing on his extra-marital affair with Susan Hayes. Although infidelity was an extremely taboo subject during the 1950's the press used this as evidence toward Sheppard's guilt.

The most damaging and unfair practice by the press concerned the way they were allowed to place evidence in their articles and assess Sheppard's guilt. Basically, the media was allowed to replace the trier of fact in our judicial system. For example, the newspapers reported that all other "suspects had been 'cleared' by lie detector tests" and it was not understood why "an innocent man would refuse to take such a test" (384 U.S. 333, 339). In actuality, Sheppard did not want to take the lie detector because the results are inconclusive. The judge allowed this information concerning the lie detector test into actual evidence to support the prosecution. Another important piece of information that was published dealt with the blood evidence. One of the detectives investigating the case, a Detective McArthur, was published in one paper stating that "scientific tests at the Sheppard home have definitely established that the killer washed off a trail of blood from the murder bedroom to the downstairs section" (384 U.S. 333, 340). This shed doubt on Sheppard's account of the murder and thus influenced the public to discredit Sheppard's testimony . The "scientific tests" about which Detective McArthur spoke, were never admitted into evidence at the trial. By the time the Supreme Court was looking into the media activity surrounding the Sheppard case, there were "five volumes filled with similar clippings from each of the three Cleveland newspapers covering the period from the murder until Sheppard's conviction" (384 U.S. 333, 342).

The most harmful result of the mass frenzy of publicity was the effect on the jury. The names of perspective jurors were published in the newspapers. As a result, "anonymous letters and telephone calls, as well as calls from friends, regarding the impending prosecution were received by all of the prospective jurors" (384 U.S. 333, 342). Once the twelve jurors were actually chosen, these problems continued. One radio station broadcasted some very controversial information, and as a result, the defense counsel requested that the judge ask how many of the jurors heard the broadcast. The judge refused and stated:
Well, I don't know, we can't stop people, in any event, listening to it. It is a matter of free speech, and the court can't control everybody.... We are not going to harass the jury every morning....I have confidence in this jury (384 U.S. 333, 347).
The judge allowed this unethical practice to continue although he knew that the jurors could be influenced by outside information.

The Supreme Court noted that the trial judge did not thoroughly consider other means to reduce the media's prejudicial material and to protect the jury from outside influences. The judge completely disregarded the concerns of the defense counsel and allowed the media, in effect, to run the trial. The judge should have also stopped state officials from giving confidential statements to the press. The Court concluded that Sheppard was not given a fair trial. Under the Fourteenth Amendment all persons are ensured due process under the law. This includes, that an accused person should have the right to a fair trial with an impartial jury who are protected from outside influences. The Court specified various ways that the trial judge could have insulated the publicity. He could have changed the venue, continued the case to a later date so that the media stopped their horrible attacks toward the accused, or ordered a new trial. He also should have stopped outside influences from reaching the jury. This could have been achieved by sequestering the jury. The Supreme Court ultimately decided that "the trial judge did not fulfill his duty to protect Sheppard from the inherently prejudicial publicity which saturated the community and to control disruptive influences in the courtroom," therefore reversing the denial of the habeas corpus petition (384 U.S. 333, 363). Sheppard was finally released from jail but he had already served over ten years.

The victory that Sam Sheppard achieved in the courtroom never really translated into public exoneration--at least not in Cleveland, as the Cleveland Press headline put it, Dr. Sam Sheppard "was getting away with murder." The final years of Sam Sheppard's life bore little resemblance to the happy ending the screenwriter granted Dr. Kimble. Generations of TV and movie fans know Dr. Richard Kimble didn't bludgeon his wife to death in The Fugitive. After all, the Kimble story ends when the wrongly accused husband catches his wife's true killer, the one-armed man. Sheppard was less fortunate. For Sam Sheppard, the real-life inspiration for Kimble, the story ended more tragically. He never escaped the public image of a wife-killer. "He couldn't go into a restaurant without people storming out, saying, 'I'm not going to be in a room with a wife killer,'" said Dr. Sheppard's son (Sanz, 4/8/96).

After Sam Sheppard's 1954 murder conviction, his losses continued to mount. His mother and father-in-law committed suicide in 1955 and 1963, respectively. Ethel Niles Sheppard, shot herself to death. His father, Dr. Richard Allen Sheppard, patriarch of Cleveland's leading family of osteopaths, died of a hemorrhaging gastric ulcer and stomach cancer 11 days after his wife. The only reason my dad survived to when he did was because I was alive," Sam R. Sheppard said. "He had nothing to live for after his mother's death and my mom's death. And to his dying day, he loved my mother" (McKnight, visited: 10/15/97).

The relationship that had developed between father and son evolved through monthly visits to the eerie old penitentiary near downtown Columbus and a mountain of correspondence, each concluding with the code letters that developed between them, V.Q.P.--Vincit Qui Patitur, Latin for He Who Endures Conquers. By the time Sheppard was released from prison in 1964, and by the time the second trial ended in acquittal two years later, his son Sam Reese Sheppard wasn't a child anymore. He was a 19 year- old college student at Boston University. "We missed each other kind of like two shooting stars that crossed paths," the son said in an interview; "we were both extremely hopeful that things were going to work out, we were happy and wanted the other to succeed, but he was frozen in time. He wanted an 8-year old kid and I was just breaking into manhood" (Nathan, 26).

With his life in tatters, Sam Sheppard had taken up heavy drinking. Two malpractice suits forced him to give up medicine, and eventually, he was forced to embrace his infamy, spending the last part of his life working as a professional wrestler under the name "Killer Sheppard" (McKnight, visited: 10/15/97). Upon his release from prison, Sam Sheppard married Ariane Tebbenjohanns, a woman from West Germany with whom he had corresponded and who had become more than a pen pal. His marriage to Ariane, however, lasted only two years, ending in 1968. In a telephone interview from Germany, she said: "I only divorced him because I wanted to get some sense into him and stop the drug-taking; otherwise we would never have divorced." But she said she never stopped believing in his innocence. And if for nothing else, there was a simple reason: "He was a very athletic man," she said. "He was very strong. If Sam had killed her, he would have killed her with two blows" (Nathan, 26). On April 6, 1970, after years of heavy drinking and his life in shambles, Dr. Sam Sheppard died at the age of 46.

For 41 years the memories have haunted Sam Reese Sheppard, who was just 7 that July night in 1954, when his 31-year-old mother, Marilyn was murdered. He clearly remembers being rousted from his bed, hurried past his mother's bedroom where her battered body remained, out through the reporters and photographers waiting in the yard. "There was a small clutch of people, and the flashbulbs went off in my eyes," he said. "That's a very distinct memory." He never saw his mother again. He was not permitted to attend the funeral because of the media onslaught. And only once, under police escort, was he allowed back in the house--a mission that lasted long enough to retrieve some clothing (Sanz, 4/8/96). He was taken in by his father's older brother Steve Sheppard, entered second grade that fall and thereafter started making the essential adjustments in life. Not surprisingly, Sam Reese Sheppard had trouble finding his way, dropping out of Boston University after two years to join the antiwar movement and wander through Europe on money he had inherited from his maternal grandfather. When his inheritance ran out, Sheppard got a job cleaning airplanes at night at Boston's Logan Airport, and in 1976 he earned his certificate in dental hygiene.

Exhausted emotionally and financially, Reese Sheppard became a recluse into his early 20s. When the Supreme Court brought back the death penalty in 1976, news reports on capital punishment reopened his old wounds. "I began experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome and knew that in order to deal with it, I should talk about it," he said (Sanz, 4/8/96). He also worked as a part-time dental worker to earn enough money for rent, bicycle tires and guitar strings. It was a 1982 newspaper photo taken outside Texas's death row that led him to his real vocation. "I saw a wife and two young sons pressed against the wire fence outside the prison and imagined myself as one of those sons, having the dad inside," he says. "It was like a blow across the face. If I had to face an execution at 14 or 16, I wouldn't be here. I'd be dead or crazy" (Sanz, 4/8/96). He started travelling around the country speaking out against the death penalty. A few years later, he walked 1,600 miles from Plymouth, Mass., to New Orleans to draw attention to the cause. His personal life was less directed. A six-year romance broke up in 1981 because Sheppard refused to start a family, and he remains uncommitted. Sam Reese Sheppard said that he knew that he was living with turbulent emotions, that it would be irresponsible to have kids," (Sanz, 4/8/96).

Sam Reese Sheppard, always believed in his father's innocence and was left unsatisfied by his father's acquittal, since a verdict of "not guilty'' requires only a reasonable doubt. He has sued the state, seeking a declaration that Dr. Sheppard was innocent and wrongly imprisoned. He became determined to clear his family name and to see his father exonerated. He knew and believed his father was innocent, but then who killed his mother, was the big question that continued to haunt him.

Working with Cynthia Cooper, a lawyer and journalist, Sam Reese Sheppard has tried to answer that question in a new book, Mockery of Justice: The True Story of the Sheppard Murder Case (1995). "Mockery of Justice" does more than just defend his father, said Sam Reese Sheppard--he thinks he's tracked down his mother's supposed killer (Cooper, 1). After poring over evidence that he says police and prosecutors overlooked in their rush to obtain a conviction, he has come to believe his mother's real killer was the "bushy-haired" intruder the doctor had claimed attacked him that night. In 1995, DNA tests by Dr. Mohammed Tahir, a forensic expert from Indianapolis, indicated a second person's blood--other than the victim's--was present in Marilyn Sheppard's bedroom. Those tests also indicated the DNA could be that of Richard Eberling, a former window washer at the family's home who has been in prison since 1984 for an unrelated murder. Eberling denies killing Marilyn Sheppard (Quade, summer/97).

Sheppard, persuaded Cuyahoga County (Ohio) prosecutors to compare the DNA of blood found at the murder scene with a sample taken from convicted murderer Richard Eberling, who once washed windows at the Sheppard home. He has also asked to have surviving hair and fiber evidence analyzed with modern forensics techniques. "I want to clear the family name," he says. "Forty-two years of bad press is a long time" (Affleck, A3).

Sam Reese Sheppard said that though earlier tests have all but proved the family handyman, Richard Eberling, murdered his mother. The exhumation was needed, he said, to eliminate all doubt. In 1997, the body of Dr. Sam Sheppard was exhumed and sent for DNA testing. Doctors took 50 samples, including pieces of bone, hair and skin, Coroner Dr. Elisabeth Balraj said. The remains were released to Sheppard's son, who will have them cremated and placed next to his mother's at a Cleveland cemetery (Affleck, A3). Speaking briefly to reporters, bespectacled Sheppard thanked them for keeping their distance while the body was unearthed.
"I feel a great sorrow, a great sorrow not allowed to me as a young child by the media," he said, noting he had not attended the funeral of either parent" (Affleck, A3).

Dr. Mohammed Tahir, a renowned forensic scientist in Indianapolis, will compare DNA from the samples with a blood stain recovered from a closet door of the Sheppard bedroom. Tahir will use a process known as DNA amplification, often used to study decomposed samples. Sir Alec Jeffreys, the British forensic scientist who invented DNA fingerprinting in the mid 1980s, describes the procedure as "taking a small amount of material and making copies and recopies in a test tube until you've got enough to type." Out of four blood samples tested, all have matched Eberling's. "It gets very complicated scientifically, but essentially we have a match on the porch of [Eberling], which cuts down to 0.5 percent, or even less, that it could be anybody else," he said (Affleck, A3).

Cleveland attorney Terry Gilbert who represented Sheppard in the civil suit, said he doubts Eberling would ever be tried for the crime. "I don't see how anyone can be tried for murder 42 years later when most of the people are dead," he said. What this does is provide burden of proof for the civil proceeding (Quade, summer/97). Although Sam Reese Sheppard, could recover as much as $2 million if he wins, he insists that clearing his family's name is his goal.

The Sam Sheppard case is the classic example of how the media and the townspeople can play a role in the legal community. In this case the people of Cleveland destroyed a man, a family, and the belief of innocence before being found guilty. Unfortunately, for Sam Sheppard, this case decided his fate, his life, and his death. Although his son has fought for his exoneration, the people of Ohio still believe, even the evidence points against it, that Sam Sheppard murdered his wife.


Affleck, John. "Doctors Exhume Sam Sheppard's Body as Son Seeks to Clear Fathers Name". Associated Press. 18 September 1997: A3. .

Cooper, Cynthia & Sheppard, Sam Reese. Mockery of Justice: The True Story of the Sheppard Murder Case.

McNight, Keith. "Haunting Questions - The Sam Sheppard Case." Beacon Journal Online - Special Projects. Knight Ridder Newspaper (visited Oct. 15, 1997).

. McNight, Keith. "Sam Sheppard Fought Two Battles." BeaconJournal. 1 July 1997.

McNight, Keith. "Sheppard Goes To Trial During Different Legal Era." Beacon Journal. 2 July 1997.

Nathan, Paul. "What Really Happened". Publishers Weekly 16 June 1997: 26.

Quade, Vicki. "Presumed Guilty." Human Rights, Vol. 24, No. 3, Summer 97 (visited Oct. 15, 1997).

Sanz, Cynthia. "A Son's Crusade". 8 April 1996.

State v. Sheppard 100 Ohio App. 345 (Ohio Ct. of Appeals 1955).

Sheppard v. Maxwell, 231 F. Supp. 37 (United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio 1964).

Sheppard v. Maxwell, 346 F. 2d. 707 (United States Court of Appeals for the 6th District 1965).

Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (United States Supreme Court 1966).

TVSD: News Policies and Guidelines 15 March 1996.

Van Alstyne, William W. First Amendment: Cases and Materials The Foundation Press, Inc. Westbury, New York, 1995: 90-92

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