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Lawyer: New DNA tests point to killer in Sheppard case

Dr. Sam Sheppard
Dr. Sam Sheppard  
In this story: March 5, 1998
Web posted at: 3:33 p.m. EST (2033 GMT)

CLEVELAND (CNN) -- New genetic tests provide "conclusive evidence" that blood found on Dr. Sam Sheppard's pants and in his home was not his own, pointing toward an intruder as the person who bludgeoned to death Sheppard's wife in 1954, a lawyer for Sheppard's son said Thursday. The case inspired the TV series and movie "The Fugitive."

Earlier DNA tests also revealed the blood wasn't from Sheppard's pregnant wife, Marilyn, 31, who was murdered in the couple's suburban Cleveland home.

A lawyer for Sheppard's son describes the DNA test results
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Their son Sam Reese Sheppard, now 50, is trying to clear his father's name. He believes his mother's killer is Richard Eberling, a former window washer at his parents' home.

'Blood could only have come from the killer'

"The trail of blood (found at the home) could only have come from the killer. The trail of blood did not come from Marilyn," said Terry Gilbert, an attorney for Sheppard's son.

Attorney Terry Gilbert comments on the evidence
icon 281 K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
icon 332 K/30 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

"The question then becomes, 'Whose blood can it be?' And Richard Eberling cannot be removed from the equation," Gilbert told reporters.

At the briefing, Gilbert displayed crime scene photos and charts to show that Sheppard's blood also was not found in several other spots around the home -- including a blood stain on a wardrobe door less than two feet away from where Mrs. Sheppard was found.

Sam Reese Sheppard did not attend the Cleveland news conference where Gilbert spoke.

Eberling is in prison for slaying an elderly widow in 1984, but denies killing Mrs. Sheppard, most recently in letters sent last week from the Orient Correctional Institution near Columbus, Ohio.

He was ordered by the court to provide DNA samples in the case. Sheppard's body was exhumed in September so that his tissue samples could be examined.

Rape evidence overlooked?

Gilbert also accused investigators of overlooking evidence that Mrs. Sheppard was raped.

"Her pajama tops were above her breasts and her pajama bottoms were down by her knees, clear indication of a sexual assault crime, completely overlooked by the investigators because it did not fit the theory of a husband ... who might want to get rid of his wife because he might be having an affair," the attorney said.

Semen taken from Mrs. Sheppard matches Eberling's genetic makeup, but could also have come from her husband, Gilbert said.

Reopening investigation unlikely

The results announced Thursday are from DNA tests conducted by Mohammad Tahir, an Indianapolis forensics expert.

Marilyn and Sam Sheppard
Marilyn and Sam Sheppard  

Even before the new findings were revealed, prosecutors downplayed the validity of the new DNA tests, saying the crime scene was trampled.

What the Sheppard team "interprets as good news may not be reliable evidence," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who opposes reopening the criminal case.

Her position angers Gilbert, who has spent eight years seeking to prove the elder Sheppard was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife.

"The prosecutor's office has the duty to investigate crime," he said, "and when a victim comes to them with evidence of crime, they have a responsibility by law to follow through."

Wrongful-imprisonment suit still pending

Dr. Sam Sheppard, who died nearly penniless of liver disease at age 46 in 1970, always insisted that a "bushy-haired intruder" killed his wife and knocked him unconscious after a struggle on the night of July 4, 1954.

He said he was dozing on a downstairs couch when he was awakened by his wife's screams from her upstairs bedroom.

Sheppard spent 10 years in prison after he was found guilty of murder. But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction, and he was acquitted at a retrial in 1966.

His estate is suing the state of Ohio, alleging wrongful imprisonment. The estate could collect about $2 million if the doctor is found innocent -- a tougher legal standard than a "not guilty" verdict.

Prosecutors have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to dismiss the suit. A ruling is expected this spring.

The DNA results will not be presented to the court, which is ruling only on the dismissal motion. The results will be presented as evidence if the suit goes to trial.


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