Sam Sheppard

From Academic Kids

For the writer and actor, see: Sam Shepard.

Dr. Samuel Holmes Sheppard (1923April 6, 1970) was a American osteopath [1] ( involved in a famous wrongful conviction. Sheppard served several years in prison before his conviction was overturned. He was acquitted in a new trial.


The murder

Sheppard was convicted of killing his pregnant wife Marilyn Sheppard in their home in the early morning hours of July 3, 1954. Sheppard claimed his wife was killed by a bushy haired intruder who also attacked him and knocked him unconscious. The Sheppards' lakefront home was in Bay Village, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb.


Sheppard was brought to trial in the autumn of 1954. The case is notable for its extensive publicity and circus-like atmosphere. Many have compared it to the O.J. Simpson trial in terms of the headlines and often lurid press it generated.

Some press in Ohio were accused of bias against Sheppard and inflammatory coverage of the trial, and criticized for regarding Sheppard as the only viable suspect. One critic wrote that a specific headline, "'Why Isn't Sam Sheppard in Jail?,' clearly shows the bias of the media against Dr. Sheppard." [2] (

Some have cited tension between Sheppard (who practiced a form of alternative medicine sometimes disparaged by mainstream doctors) and the coroner, among others, arguing they were perhaps biased against Sheppard. [3] (

It was revealed that Sheppard had an extramarrital affair with Susan Hayes, a nurse at the hospital where Sheppard was employed. The prosecution argued the affair was Sheppard's motive for killing his wife.

Sheppard's attorney, William Corrigan, pointed out to the jury that Sheppard had severe injuries including broken teeth and spinal and neck lacerations, and argued these injuries were inflicted by the intruder. The defense called eighteen character witnesses for Sheppard, and two witnesses who said that they had seen a bushy haired man near the Sheppard home the day of the crime.

The defense further argued that the crime scene was extremely bloody, and except for a small spot on his trousers, Sheppard had no blood on him. Corrigan also noted that two of Marilyn's teeth were pulled out of her mouth, suggesting she had bitten her assailant. He told the jury that Sheppard had no open wounds. (Note that some have questioned the accuracy of claims that Marilyn Sheppard lost her teeth while biting her attacker, arguing her missing teeth are consistent with the severe beating Marilyn Sheppard took to her face and skull.) [4] (

The jury determined Sheppard was guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Acquittal and later life

Sheppard served ten years of his sentence. After several appeals were rejected, his petition for a writ of habeas corpus was granted by a United States district court judge in 1964. The state was ordered to free Sheppard or to grant him a new trial. The case was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Sheppard v. Maxwell, Template:Ussc. The Court held that Sheppard's conviction was the result of a trial in which he was denied due process. The decision noted, among other factors, that a "carnival atmosphere" had permeated the trial, and that the trial judge had refused to sequester the jury and had not ordered the jury to ignore and disregard media reports of the case.

Famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey argued Sheppard's case before the Supreme Court and also represented him at the retrial, which resulted in a not guilty verdict.

After his acquittal, Sheppard returned briefly to medicine, but was sued for medical malpractice in the death of a patient.

Later, Sheppard was briefly a pro wrestler. [5] (

He died of liver failure in 1970. Sheppard was reportedly prone to drinking "as much as two fifths of liquor a day." [6] (

Continuing research

Sheppard's son, Samuel Reese Sheppard, has devoted considerable time and efforts to clearing his father's reputation. [7] (

In 1999, Marilyn Sheppard's body was exhumed, in part to determine if the fetus she was carrying when she was killed was fathered by Dr. Sheppard. Terry Gilbert, an attorney retained by the Sheppard family, noted that "the fetus in this case had previously been autopsied," a fact that had never previously been disclosed. This, Gilbert argued, raised questions about the coroner's office in the original case possibly concealing pertinent evidence. [8] (

Other suspects

Richard Eberling, who was a window washer at the Sheppard home, has been cited as a suspect in the case, after a ring that had belonged to Marilyn Sheppard was found in his possession.

Eberling admitted washing windows at the Sheppard home, and stated he cut his finger and bled while on the premises. This has been cited as evidence of Eberling's involvement in the murder: "Some people questioned why Eberling would account for his blood being in the house." [9] (

Though Eberling denied any involvement in the Sheppard case, [10] ( a fellow convict reported that Eberling confessed to the crime.

Eberling died in jail in 1998 where he was serving time for the 1984 murder of an elderly Cuyahoga County woman named Ethel May Durkin. DNA testing of Richard Eberling's blood, to see if there is a match with the blood found at the murder scene, showed he could not be excluded as a suspect.


It is believed by many that the television series and motion picture The Fugitive were very loosely based on Sheppard's story, though this has always been denied by the creators of those works.

External links


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