Court Ends Last Appeal In Sam Sheppard Case
By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - The 48-year legal odyssey of Dr. Sam Sheppard's celebrated murder case appears to finally come to an end.
The Ohio Supreme Court has refused to review a lower court's decision that Sheppard's estate can not sue the state for wrongful imprisonment on behalf of Sheppard, who died in 1970.
Sheppard (pictured, above) was indicted on Aug. 17, 1954, in the July murder of his wife in their suburban Bay Village home.
Sheppard spent ten years in jail until his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1964 that the original trial judge failed to shield jurors and witnesses from news stories in the widely reported case.
Sheppard was acquitted at a retrial in 1966 and died four years later. He always denied killing his wife and blamed an intruder.
The case is considered an inspiration for the TV series "The Fugitive," although the show's creator has denied that.
Sheppard's son, Sam Reese Sheppard, and the family's estate filed suit against Ohio for wrongful imprisonment. In order to win that case, the jury would have to have concluded that a preponderance of evidence indicated the elder Sheppard was innocent.
After about two months of testimony, a jury took three hours to conclude that it could not find Sheppard innocent.
An appeals court ruled in February that the case never should have gone to trail because the statute of limitations on wrongful imprisonment expired with the death of the defendant.
On Aug. 7, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld that decisions in a one sentence ruling, saying that the appeal raises no "substantial constitutional question."
Cuyahoga County prosecutor William Mason said Tuesday, "fundamentally what it means is that the Sheppard case has no more legal arguments to make in a courthouse, and it's over after 48 years."
"This (case) has had a long history and it probably should have died when Sam Sheppard died in 1970," Mason said.
Terry Gilbert, the Sheppard family lawyer, agreed.
"You hate to ever say it's the absolute end, but it looks that way," Gilbert said. "There are no further legal remedies or appeals available. This case now is in the historical and academic realm."
But Sam Reese Sheppard says he hopes that ongoing investigations of the case by authors and others offer hope that someday his father's name will be cleared.
"My dad was innocent," he said. "If the state of Ohio and Cuyahoga County don't have the guts to stand up and admit they made a mistake, that doesn't change the fact."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)