Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Vintage 1950s Scandal


The Sam Sheppard Case


Samuel Holmes "SamSheppard was an American neurosurgeon initially convicted for the murder of his wife, Marilyn Reese Sheppard.

          On the night of July 3, 1954, Sheppard and Marilyn were entertaining neighbors at their lakefront home on Lake Erie. While they were watching the movie Strange Holiday. Sam fell asleep on a daybed in the living room. Marilyn walked the neighbors out.

          In the early morning hours of July 4, 1954, Marilyn was bludgeoned to death in her bed with an unknown instrument. The bedroom was covered with blood spatter and drops of blood were found on floors throughout the house. According to Sheppard, he was sleeping soundly on the daybed when he heard the cries from his wife. He ran upstairs where he saw a form in the bedroom and then he was knocked unconscious. When he awoke, he saw the person downstairs, chased the intruder out of the house down to the lakeshore where they fought.  Sheppard has knocked unconscious again. He awoke with half his body in the lake.

          At 5:40 am, Sheppard called his neighbor. When they arrived, Sheppard was found shirtless and his pants were wet with a bloodstain on the knee. The authorities found Sheppard disoriented and in shock. The family dog was not heard barking to indicate an intruder, and their seven-year-old son, Sam Reese "Chip" Sheppard, was asleep in the adjacent bedroom during the whole ordeal.

          During the investigation it was revealed at trial that Sheppard had carried on a three-year  extramarital affair with Susan Hayes, a nurse at the hospital where Sheppard was employed. The prosecution argued that the affair was Sheppard's motive for killing his wife.  The autopsy also showed Marilyn was pregnant with a four-month-old male fetus.

          Other issues brought up at trial showed no sand in his hair when Sheppard claimed to have been sprawled at the beach, and his missing T-shirt, which the prosecutor speculated would or should contain some of Sheppard's blood. Prosecutor John J. Mahon made these assertions despite no T-shirt was ever found or presented as evidence.

          On December 21, after deliberating for four days, the jury found Sheppard guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison. On January 7, 1955, shortly after his conviction, his mother, Ethel Sheppard committed suicide by gunshot. Eleven days later, Sheppard's father, Dr. Richard Sheppard, died of a bleeding gastric ulcer and stomach cancer. Sam Sheppard was permitted to attend both funerals but was required to wear handcuffs. In 1963, Sheppard's father-in-law, Thomas S. Reese committed suicide.


     Sheppard's attorney, William Corrigan spent six years making appeals but all were rejected. On July 30, 1961, Corrigan died and F. Lee Bailey took over as Sheppard's chief counsel. July 15, 1964 a U.S. district court  judge called the 1954 trial a "mockery of justice" that shredded Sheppard's Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process. The State of Ohio was ordered to release Sheppard on bond and gave the prosecutor 60 days to bring charges against him. Otherwise, the case would be dismissed permanently.  The state of Ohio appealed the ruling to aU.S. Court of Appeals Court for the 6th Circuit. On March 4, 1965, the Circuit Court reversed the federal judge's ruling.  Bailey appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in Sheppard v. Maxwell. On June 6, 1966, the Supreme Court, by an 8-to-1 vote, struck down the murder conviction and said that the trial judge, Edward J. Blythin, who had died in 1958, was biased against Sheppard because Judge Blythin had refused to sequester the jury, did not order the jury to ignore and disregard media reports of the case, and told newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen shortly before the trial started, "Well, he's guilty as hell. There's no question about it."

          Sheppard served ten years of his sentence. Three days after his release, he married Ariane Tebbenjohanns, a German divorcee who had corresponded with him during his imprisonment. They  divorced October 7, 1969.

          Jury selection for the retrial began October 24, 1966, and opening statements began eight days later. Media interest in the trial remained high, but this jury was sequestered. The prosecutor presented essentially the same case as was presented twelve years earlier. Bailey aggressively discredited each prosecution witness during cross-examination. In his closing argument, Bailey scathingly dismissed the prosecution's case against Sheppard as "ten pounds of hogwash in a five-pound bag". The trial was very important to Bailey's rise to prominence as a criminal defense lawyer.

          After his acquittal, Sheppard helped write the book Endure and Conquer, which presented his side of the case and gave insight into his years in prison.

          Six months before his death, Sheppard married Colleen Strickland. Towards the end of his life, Sheppard was reportedly drinking "as much as two-fifths of liquor a day" (1.5 liters). On April 6, 1970, Sheppard was found dead in his home in Columbus, Ohio. The official cause of death was Wernicke's encephalopathy (biochemical lesions in the brain caused by thiamine a deficiency). He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Columbus, Ohio.

          Sheppard's son has devoted considerable time and effort towards attempting to clear his father's reputation.

          After ten weeks of trial, 76 witnesses, and hundreds of exhibits, the case went to the eight-person civil jury. The jury deliberated just three hours on April 12, 2000, before returning a unanimous verdict that Samuel Reese Sheppard had failed to prove that his father had been wrongfully imprisoned.   


          The television series The Fugitive and the1933 film of the same name 

has been cited as being loosely based on Sheppard's story. This claim has always been denied by their creators.


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