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Sam Sheppard's remains exhumed for DNA testing


Son tries to clear father's name in 'Fugitive' murder case

September 17, 1997
Web posted at: 11:31 a.m. EDT (1531 GMT)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNN) -- Gravediggers on Wednesday began the delicate exhumation of Dr. Sam Sheppard, whose sensational murder trial inspired the TV series and movie "The Fugitive."

About two dozen reporters crowded around the roped-off site at Forest Lawn Cemetery, where Sheppard was buried 27 years ago after living a life of agony for being convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Marilyn, in their suburban Cleveland home -- a charge he vehemently denied.

Sam Reese Sheppard

The exhumation is part of a $2 million civil lawsuit filed against the state by Sheppard's son, Sam Reese Sheppard. The son wants the state to declare his father innocent and to say he was wrongfully imprisoned for the 1954 slaying.

The doctor was sentenced to life in prison for the beating death. After serving 10 years in prison, he was acquitted in a second trial after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the case was tainted by pretrial publicity. He died of liver disease in 1970 at age 46.

Sheppard's body is to be taken to Cleveland where doctors will compare his DNA samples with the genetic makeup of blood found at the crime scene.

Investigators of the Sam Sheppard case were so sure that Sheppard, his wife, Marilyn, and their son were alone in the house the night of the murder that they never checked whether a trail of blood leading from the bedroom to the basement may have belonged to someone else.

"Coming to Columbus means to me a dark and damp dungeon where I visited my dad for 10 years," the younger Sheppard said at a news conference Tuesday. "My dad died in despair. My dad was crushed. ... His heart was broken."

Civil trial starts early 1998

Under Ohio's wrongful imprisonment law, Sheppard can ask the Ohio Court of Claims to pay $250,000 for his father's incarceration, plus compensation for financial losses. Attorneys believe a final award for Sheppard could top $1 million.

A trial is scheduled for January.

Sheppard, 50, hopes the blood tests could show a DNA match with a former window washer at the Sheppard home, Richard Eberling. Eberling, in prison for a 1984 murder, has denied killing Mrs. Sheppard.

Marilyn and Sam Sheppard

Prosecutors have said too much time has passed and too much evidence has been lost to reach a conclusion about the killer.

Following the exhumation and blood tests, the doctor's body will be cremated and moved to the mausoleum in Cleveland, where his wife was entombed 43 years ago.

Son to protest death penalty

The son also announced Tuesday that he will make a trek on foot across Ohio to protest the death penalty. The 220-mile walk -- from Cleveland to Cincinnati -- was to begin Thursday at the grave of his mother.

The younger Sheppard, who was 7 at the time of his mother's death, said he was traumatized by the prospect of his father facing possible execution only months after his mother's death.

"That scarred my soul," Sheppard said. "We shouldn't do that to a child in this country."


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