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Judge sets new hearing in 'Fugitive' case

Mrs. Sheppard

May 8, 1997
Web posted at: 2:35 p.m. EDT (1835 GMT)

In this story:

CLEVELAND, Ohio (CNN) -- Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted years ago in the 1954 murder of his wife, Marilyn Sheppard. Although he was later found not guilty, his name was never cleared. Thursday, his son Sam Reese Sheppard entered the courtroom for the first time in 31 years in hopes of winning that exoneration.


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During the hearing, Sheppard's attorney suggested that the prosecutor was stalling, an accusation the prosecution denies. Common Pleas Suster did not set a trial date, but scheduled another hearing for June 2 to discuss evidence and hear the prosecutor's motion for dismissal.

If the state of Ohio does pronounce Sheppard's father innocent, it will clear the way for the younger Sheppard to sue the state for 10 years of wrongful imprisonment, plus compensation for financial losses.

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Sheppard's trial was called "The Trial of the Century," long before the most recent trial of the century transfixed the viewing public. O.J. Simpson was only 7 years old when Dr. Sam Sheppard first went on trial for the murder of his pregnant wife.

Sheppard's son was 7 himself the night his mother was murdered in 1954. He was a teen-ager when he testified for the defense at his father's second trial in 1966.

Police accused Doctor Sam -- as he came to be known by millions of people -- of bludgeoning his wife to death while their son lay asleep in the next room. Sheppard's story, that he fought a "bushy-haired intruder" until being knocked out, inspired the 1960s TV series "The Fugitive," as well as a film by the same name.

T.V. and film

Bailey: 'A filthy case'

But Sheppard's story was not fiction. He was convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to life in prison. After 10 years, a young defense attorney named F. Lee Bailey got the conviction overturned, arguing that the first trial was tainted by a "carnival atmosphere."

"Paul Holmes, who wrote the book 'The Sheppard Murder Case,' a lawyer and distinguished writer, he's the one who said the case rubbed luster from American jurisprudence. He was very kind, it was a filthy case, one of the worst I've ever seen," Bailey said.

"But he thinks that Sam Sheppard did not commit the crime, could not have committed the crime. Indeed, two justices on the Ohio Supreme Court said they proved him innocent with their own evidence," Bailey said.

Sam Reese Sheppard

Sheppard was found not guilty during a second trial in 1966. "After 10 years in prison for something I didn't do, it's about time," Dr. Sheppard said at the time.

But Sheppard's son still wants the state to declare his father innocent, a question never asked of the jurors during the second trial.

The younger Sheppard has filed suit, asking the courts to declare that Dr. Sheppard was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the slaying.

New crime scene evidence

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Ron Suster will consider new evidence based on crime scene blood and body fluids. The younger Sheppard and his lawyers believe that DNA tests conducted on blood from the crime scene will back up their contention that Mrs. Sheppard was killed by an intruder.

Richard Eberling, the Sheppards' window washer at the time, is considered a key suspect by Sheppard's attorneys. He's currently serving a life sentence for the beating death of another woman.

The 43-year-old mystery may never be solved. And if Sheppard's name is in fact cleared, the news comes too late for him. He died in 1970 at age 46, just four years after his release from prison.

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But it isn't too late for Sheppard's son, who could apply to the Ohio Court of Claims for $250,000 -- $25,000 for each of the 10 years his father was in prison -- plus compensation for financial losses if he wins the suit.

The suit could also provide an emotional catharsis for the younger Sheppard, who has been fighting to clear his father's name for much of this decade.

"The truth keeps me going," he said. "My dad was an innocent man."

The letters V.Q.P. grace his father's gravestone. The father and son closed all their correspondence with those letters, which stand for the Latin phrase "Vincit Qui Patitur," He who endures, conquers.

 
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