Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Coroner's reports cloud Sheppard case

Family says testing process is flawed

The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — A coroner's report on evidence in the case that inspired TV's The Fugitive bolsters the argument that Dr. Sam Sheppard killed his wife 46 years ago, prosecutors said Tuesday.

        But the couple's son and a lawyer working to prove Dr. Sheppard was innocent of the killing said most of the work done by Cuyahoga County Coroner Elizabeth Balraj is flawed. They also say a DNA test on the fetus Marilyn Sheppard was carrying when she died helps clear her husband.

        Dr. Balraj, working at the request of county prosecutors, conducted a battery of exams on Mrs. Sheppard's body, which was exhumed last year.

        The coroner also examined photographs from the original crime scene and tried unsuccessfully to conclude what type of weapon the killer used. Mrs. Sheppard was murdered in her bed at the family's home on Lake Erie early on July 4, 1954.

        Prosecutors are defending the state in a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit brought by Sam Reese Sheppard, the couple's only son. Mr. Sheppard's father was convicted in the death and spent 10 years in prison before being acquitted at a retrial. The doctor died in 1970.

        The wrongful imprisonment case goes to trial Jan. 31.

        Dr. Balraj said DNA tests on the fetus could not prove with absolute certainty that Dr. Sheppard was the father. One DNA test indicated that Dr. Sheppard was the father, but the results could not be reproduced, she said.

        “We decided to call these results inconclusive,” Dr. Balraj said. “But from our examinations it is most likely the father of the fetus is Sam Sheppard.”

        Prosecutors had the fetus tested in the hope that it would show Dr. Sheppard was not the father, potentially giving him a motive for killing his wife.

        But prosecutors said Dr. Balraj's other findings seem to contradict the doctor's alibi.

        “The physical evidence now being uncovered calls into question Dr. Sheppard's version of events,” Prosecutor William Mason said.

        Dr. Sheppard always said his wife was killed by a bushy-haired intruder who knocked him unconsciousness.

        Sheppard attorney Terry Gilbert said the methods used in Dr. Balraj's investigation were questionable and “clearly not comparable to the conditions of the murder. Their attempts to pick away at our case don't amount to much.”


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