Thursday, March 23, 2000

Sheppard's words read in court

1954 testimony is about intruder

The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — The words of Dr. Sam Sheppard, dead for 30 years, were heard in a courtroom again Wednesday at the trial to determine once and for all whether he killed his wife in 1954.

        Dr. Sheppard is one of about 20 witnesses whose testimony has been — or will be — read to jurors at the wrongful imprisonment trial brought by the Sheppards' son in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

        The original case led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling and helped inspire The Fugitive TV series.

        Prosecutor William Mason, who is defending the state, said time has left him little choice but to read words spoken decades ago.

        “Unfortunately, most of the real strong testimony comes from people who have died,” Mr. Mason said. “I would rather have live witnesses, but it appears the jury is following it closely.”

        Marilyn Sheppard was slain in 1954 at the family's home on Lake Erie. Her husband, who claimed a bushy-haired intruder killed his wife and knocked him unconscious, was convicted of murder and spent a decade in prison.

        The Supreme Court overturned the verdict. Dr. Sheppard was acquitted at a retrial in 1966 and died four years later.

        Dr. Sheppard's testimony covered the night of the murder and his arrest. Dr. Sheppard, who had fallen asleep downstairs, testified in 1954 that he woke up to his wife's cries and “ascended the stairway.”

        In the bedroom, Dr. Sheppard said, “I felt that I could visualize a form of some type with a light top.” He tried to go to his wife but was “struck from behind and my recollection was cut off.”

        He later grappled with the intruder on the beach near his house but was again knocked out, Dr. Sheppard said.

        The doctor also described how police tried to intimidate him into confessing and how at one point after he was arrested he was taken to a hospital, stripped naked and examined for a long time by three doctors.

        To win the lawsuit, Sam Reese Sheppard must convince the jury that the majority of evidence indicates his father was innocent of killing his mother.

        He thinks that his mother's killer was Richard Eberling, a window washer working for his family at the time. Mr. Eberling died in 1998 while serving a life imprisonment term for another murder.

        It was a “little emotional” to hear his father's words, Mr. Sheppard said.


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- Sheppard's words read in court