Saturday, April 21, 2001

Sheppard's son still hopeful

Back in Cleveland, he's pushing for appeal to succeed

By M.R. Kropko
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — About a year after Sam Reese Sheppard lost his legal battle to have his father, Dr. Sam Sheppard, found not guilty in the 1954 murder of his mother, he remains hopeful.

        Although weary, he said an appeal remains alive and he will pursue it.

        “I'm burnt and I'm pretty bitter at this point,” he said Friday. “I've been working on music and trying to regroup from what I call a show trial. It was very difficult for me to get through this.”

        A state appeal has been progressing slowly since last year. Mr. Sheppard and his lawyer, Terry Gilbert, said among the issues in the appeal is that a jury should not have determined whether Dr. Sheppard was not guilty. They argue the matter should have been decided by the judge.

        The Cuyahoga County prosecutor's staff has yet to file its response. Mr. Gilbert said the appeals court is still compiling evidence that was offered in the trial and there probably won't be a ruling until next year.

        “I am solid in terms of knowing who murdered my mother,” Mr. Sheppard said. “There's no doubt about that in my mind, but I am not confident of the legal system in this country. I'm confident of my dad's innocence.”

        He returned to Cleveland almost a year after his father's wrongful imprisonment trial to attend a legal conference at Cleveland State University this weekend. The conference is titled “Toward More Reliable Jury Verdicts — Law, Technology and Media Developments Since the Trials of Dr. Sam Sheppard.”

        “The purpose of the discussion is what we can learn from the Sheppard case,” said Patricia Falk, a Cleveland State law professor. “It's not designed to re- examine the question of Dr. Sheppard's guilt or innocence, but to examine what can be learned from the case.”

        Mr. Sheppard is to speak today at the conference.

        “My opening line is, "It's very difficult for me to return to the scene of the crimes.' That's crimes, plural. Because certainly it is a crime to wrongfully put someone in prison and take freedom away,” he said.

        He had sued the state of Ohio, claiming his father was wrongfully imprisoned for the slaying of his mother, Marilyn.

        Mrs. Sheppard was bludgeoned to death at the family home in suburban Cleveland on July 4, 1954. Her husband claimed he was sleeping at the time of the murder and was knocked out by a bushy-haired intruder when he woke up and ran to his wife's aid.

        Dr. Sheppard was convicted of murder in a highly publicized trial and spent a decade in prison. But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the verdict, ruling that the trial judge failed to shield jurors from negative media reports about the case.

        The doctor was acquitted in a 1966 retrial and died four years later, but Mr. Sheppard, representing the doctor's estate, needed a finding of not guilty to make a claim against Ohio for about $2 million in damages.


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