New evidence could overturn verdict in 'Fugitive' case
June 14, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Ed Garsten
CLEVELAND (CNN) -- For 100 consecutive days in 1954, sensational newspaper headlines plastered Dr. Samuel Sheppard's name and picture across the front pages.
Inside, the press spread out every detail of what was then the trial of the century. The case, which later inspired the TV program and movie "The Fugitive," ended with Sheppard's conviction in the bludgeoning death of his pregnant wife, Marilyn. Forty-two years after the murder, Sheppard's son is hoping the verdict will be overturned.
In his book "Mockery of Justice," Samuel Reese Sheppard claims his father was railroaded. "We have turned up evidence that there was a cover-up by the authorities in 1954. Twenty-five or 24 individuals should have been interviewed, instead of one, which was my dad," he said.
Dr. Sheppard was sentenced to life in prison. Unlike the doctor in the TV show, he did not escape and vindicate himself by finding a better suspect. Instead, he was released 10 years later when the Supreme Court ruled that media hysteria had prevented him from getting a fair trial.
"After 10 years in prison for something I didn't do -- it's about time," Dr. Sheppard said at the time.
Now, with the help of a Cleveland lawyer, the younger Sheppard has filed a civil suit asking that his father be declared innocent.
"There were no other suspects they took a look at. There was a cry in the community, and Dr. Sheppard was an easy target from that point, and the media focused on him and pushed for his prosecution and conviction," said attorney Terry Gilbert.
The case has haunted the entire Sheppard family ever since. "After my dad's wrongful conviction, his dad died from gastric ulcers," Sheppard said. "His mother, my grandmother, committed suicide. Years later, my mother's father committed suicide."
Sheppard and his lawyer think they may have a break in the case as well. They believe that Richard Eberling, a convicted murderer and petty thief, was the real murderer in the case. He was a window washer for the Sheppards.
"When he was examined and questioned about his burglaries, one of the first things out of his mouth was, 'Oh, my blood is in the Sheppards' house,'" Sheppard said. Eberling was arrested in 1959 with one of Marilyn Sheppard's rings in his possession, Gilbert said.
Assistant prosecutor Carmen Marino, who also doubts Sheppard's guilt, says Eberling may be a good lead. "I think he is the best suspect we've looked at. He seems to be around women who are bludgeoned to death," she said.
Sheppard and his lawyer hope they now have the final piece of evidence they need to prove their theory. On Monday, blood from the crime scene is scheduled to undergo DNA testing. Sheppard is betting that it will match the blood of Richard Eberling.
That evidence alone might not be enough to charge Eberling with the crime. Gilbert says it would be "just one, but powerful, piece of evidence linking him to the crime."
Carmen Marino, however, is ready to take a look at that powerful piece of evidence. "We have to take a harder look and see where the facts lead us," she said.
Sam Sheppard died in 1970, just four years after his release. But his son vows to spend the rest of his life working to correct his father's epitaph. "The truth keeps me going," he said. "My dad was an innocent man."
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