<i>Fugitive</i> Jury Rules Against Sheppard

Dr. Sam Sheppard
The long quest by the son of Dr. Sam Sheppard to clear his father’s name came up short Wednesday, as an Ohio jury rejected the claim that the man who inspired “The Fugitive” was innocent of his wife's 1954 murder.

The decision is a major victory for prosecutors who believe Dr. Sheppard killed his wife in one of America's most notorious slayings.

The jury in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court did not find Sheppard guilty of murder -- that wasn't the question before them.

Rather, their decision means the couple's son, Sam Reese Sheppard, failed to meet the burden of proof in his lawsuit against the state of Ohio. To win, Sheppard needed to convince jurors the majority of evidence showed his father was innocent.

Sheppard's wrongful imprisonment lawsuit, filed through his father's estate, was the climax of his decade-long campaign clear Dr. Sheppard's name for all time. But Wednesday's verdict is a blow to that effort.

The jury deliberated less than three hours.

Sam Reese Sheppard, with his attorney's left arm over his shoulder, grasped his hands tightly and maintained a tight smile as the verdict was announced.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors, who have defended the state in the lawsuit, said Dr. Sheppard's story just didn't make sense.

During the two-and-a-half-month trial, they pointed out slight changes over time in Sheppard's recounting of the murder and claimed injuries the doctor said he sustained fighting the intruder could have been faked.

Prosecutors portrayed Dr. Sheppard as a cheating husband who felt trapped in his marriage and was particularly unhappy because his wife had recently become pregnant for the second time.

They presented evidence of Sheppard's extramarital affair with a lab technician and theorized he beat his wife to death with a bedroom lamp in a fit of rage.

One of the most sensational murder trials of the 1950s, the Sheppard case helped inspire The Fugitive TV series and led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the effects of pretrial publicity.

Mrs. Sheppard was bludgeoned in her bed early on July 4, 1954, at the family's home on Lake Erie. Her son, then just 7 years old, slept through the killing in his room nearby.

Dr. Sheppard claimed he was sleeping downstairs at the time of the murder and awoke to his wife's cries. He ran to help her but was knocked unconscious by a bushy-haired intruder, he said.

Sheppard said he chased the intruder to the beach but was knocked out again.

The case of the wealthy, handsome on doctor trial for murder riveted the nation. A jury convicted Sheppard of murder and he spent nearly a decade in prison.

But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the verdict, ruling the trial judge failed to shield jurors and witnesses from the crush of negative media reports about the doctor.

Sheppard was acquitted at a retrial in 1966 but the public remained divided on whether he was guilty. H died four years later.

Sam Reese Sheppard, 52, of Oakland, Calif., claims he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from watching the destruction of his family. Before the verdict was reached, Sheppard said he planned to appeal if he lost.

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