Thursday, April 13, 2000

Jury rejects Sheppard's innocence claim

Son unable to clear his father

BY John Affleck
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — A jury Wednesday rejected the claim of Dr. Sam Sheppard's son that his father was wrongfully imprisoned for his mother Marilyn's 1954 beating death.

        The decision is a major victory for prosecutors who believe Dr. Sheppard killed his wife in one of America's most notorious slayings.

        The jury in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court did not find Dr. Sheppard guilty of murder — that wasn't the question before them.

        Rather, their decision means the couple's son, Sam Reese Sheppard, failed to meet the burden of proof in his lawsuit against the state of Ohio. To win, Mr. Sheppard needed to convince jurors the majority of evidence showed his father was inno cent.

        “The Sheppard family may be bloodied, but we are unbowed,” the younger Mr. Sheppard said in a loud voice at a news conference outside court. He maintained that his side had proved his father innocent. “That will come out in history, I assure you,” he said.

        Mr. Sheppard's wrongful imprisonment lawsuit, filed through his father's estate, was the climax of his decade-long campaign clear Dr. Sheppard's name for all time.

        The eight jurors deliberated about three hours before returning their unanimous verdict.

        Mrs. Sheppard was bludgeoned in her bed early on July 4, 1954, at the family's home on Lake Erie. Her son, then just 7 years old, slept through the killing in his room nearby.

        Dr. Sheppard claimed he was sleeping downstairs at the time of the murder and awoke to his wife's cries. He ran to help her but was knocked unconscious by a bushy-haired intruder, he said.

        Dr. Sheppard said he chased the intruder but was knocked out again.

        The case of the wealthy, handsome doctor on trial for murder riveted the nation. A jury convicted Dr. Sheppard of murder and he spent nearly a decade in prison.

        But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the verdict, ruling that the trial judge failed to shield jurors and witnesses from the crush of negative media reports.

        Dr. Sheppard was acquitted at a retrial in 1966. He died four years later.



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