In 1954, Sam Sheppard – a highly respected neurosurgeon – was convicted of the murder of his wife. He was acquitted after spending ten years in prison. However, debates continue to rage as to his guilt.
In 2003, Bill Mason, the Prosecuting Attorney for Cuyahoga County, published his own version of the case with co-writer Jack DiPisario, Dr. Sam Sheppard on Trial: The Prosecutors and Marilyn Sheppard. They offer a step-by-step account, along with supporting documents, of how they showed that Terry Gilbert’s defense had no solid basis in fact. Included is the line-by-line cross-examination of Sam Sheppard’s original testimony.
Nevertheless, Bill Mason believes that even the results of this trial will not close the case. “There are still people who won’t want to believe that Sam did it. They’ll hook onto any other suspect who comes along—anybody but Sam. This is a case that will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, because there’s always going to be some ambiguity. For example, some people put a lot of stock into the evidence of a pry mark on the cellar, but the problem with that theory is that it’s just a root cellar. It doesn’t go upstairs.”
Why do we still talk about Sam Sheppard?
“What makes a case like this endure is a confluence of things: the fact that it was taken to the Supreme Court, and the legal community still cites it when talking about prejudicial publicity. It involved colorful characters like F. Lee Bailey, who fresh out of law school picked up the case. He’s a larger-than-life character attached to it. Then you’ve got the popular television series, ‘The Fugitive,’ that was spun off it. Add to that the plethora of books about it. But also, everyone loves a mystery—is there really some bushy-haired stranger? It’s a case about the boogey man.
“We’re back to the idea that we want murderers to be monsters. It’s a cultural bias. The person who would bludgeon Marilyn to death in such a brutal manner must be a monster. We’re uncomfortable with the idea that it could be a young, handsome doctor. That discomfort fuels the fire in the hunt for the ‘true’ offender. Then you have Sam Reese Sheppard beating the drum about this for a long period of time. It’s not going away.
“But the courts are making it difficult for him to continue to use legal channels. On February 2002, a three-judge panel, the Eighth District Court of Appeals in Ohio, rejected Gilbert’s appeal of the verdict from the civil trial. They noted that the case should never have gone to trial because only the person who was incarcerated can file a wrongful imprisonment suit, and that right dies with the person. In other words, there was no legal foundation for the case. Gilbert then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, and in August 2002, they issued a one-sentence ruling, refusing to hear the appeal. The fat lady has sung on this one. It’s over.”
Beyond Reasonable Doubt
“Personally, I don’t know of any other logical conclusion that anyone could come to from the totality of these facts and circumstances, but that Sam Sheppard murdered his wife. You can always find some doubt in any case, but in my mind this one is beyond a reasonable doubt.”
What do you think? Do you agree with Bill Mason? The case continues to endure.