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The Sam Sheppard Trial 2000: Dramatic Week in the Sheppard Trial

Friday, February 25, 2000 at 1:22 PM

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It's been a dramatic week in the wrongful imprisonment trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard. On Tuesday Sam Reece Sheppard, son of the late physician, took the witness stand. As testimony unfolds, the legal strategies of both sides are becoming apparent. 90.3's Ley Garnett reports.

Ley Garnett- It was inevitable that Sam Reece Sheppard would testify in this unusual trial. Now 52 years old, Sheppard is a dental hygienist and political activist living in Oakland, California. But most observers thought his testimony would come near the end of the proceedings which are expected to last several more weeks. Instead Sheppard took the stand Tuesday to explain why he’s pressing the lawsuit against Cuyahoga County.

Sam Reece Sheppard- My mother was murdered. The offender has never been found. It’s an unsolved murder case. My Father’s life was destroyed by the state of Ohio. Any son that would sweep that under the rug is not worth their salt, in my opinion.

LG- Guided by his attorney Terry Gilbert, Sheppard recalled the day of July 3rd, 1954 - the day before his mother was bludgeoned to death and his life was forever changed.

SRS- It was very routine, Mother took me up to bed. And I said my prayers and she tucked me into bed and I went to sleep.

Terry Gilbert- Was there any recollection of any kind of tension or hostility in the home?

SRS- No tension or hostility in the least, no.

LG- Up until the murder, Sheppard said he was enjoying an idyllic childhood in Bay Village where he played in his large backyard and walked the beaches along Lake Erie. Under cross examination he remained steady, often smiling even when pressed by assistant Cuyahoga prosecutor Steve Dever.

Steve Dever- Did you ever sit down with your Dad and ask your Dad what happened that night?

SRS- There was no need to and I did not.

SD- Did you ever ask your Dad: Did you kill my Mom?

SRS- Absolutely not. There was no question that he did not kill my Mother.

LG- But Cuyahoga County Assistant prosecutor Steve Dever was able to elicit some key new information. Dever asked Sheppard whether his father ever spoke of a special marital arrangement.

SD- And what were those agreements that your Dad told you of?

SRS- Essentially that they had had some problems and that Dad was allowed to have kind of an open marriage while my Mother worked out some personal sexual problems and that they loved each other very dearly and were working that through.

LG- Cuyahoga prosecutors, who are defending the state in this trial, seem to be building a case for Dr. Sheppard being trapped in an unhappy marriage from he escaped through murder. They’re also closely questioning the book deals and movie rights Sam Reece Sheppard has pursued. But the Sheppard legal team has made its points as well. They called Kathie Dyal to the stand. Dyal told of meeting Richard Eberling in 1983 while both were doing volunteer work for the Cleveland Ballet . Eberling was a maintenance worker for the Sheppards in the early 50’s. He’s the man the plaintiffs are trying to finger as the real killer. Dyal said Eberling hired her as a night care provider for an elderly woman, Ethyl Durkin. She said after working for him for a couple of months she was becoming fond of him, then suddenly one night, the conversation turned strange.

Kathie Dyal- And he said, wouldn’t it be interesting or how would I have felt, to imagine watching somebody die and watching the life drain out of their eyes, is what he said to me.

LG- Then Dyal said Eberling asked her if she’d ever heard of Marilyn Sheppard. Dyal said no.

KD- And then he told me that he had killed her and he hit her husband in the head with a pail and that the bitch bit the hell out of him, but that he got her ring and somebody else paid the bill.

LG- So far, Dyal’s testimony has not been impeached. In 1984, Eberling was convicted of murdering Durkin and was sent to prison where he died two years ago. Yesterday Sheppard’s attorneys called a retired Bay Village police detective who said Eberling turned over two of Marilyn Sheppard’s rings when he was arrested for a string of burglaries in 1959. But James Thompkins also testified that Eberling denied killing Sheppard when he interviewed him in prison. Still to come in the trial: the DNA evidence with which the Sheppard team hopes to link Eberling to the murder scene.

FOR INFOHIO, I’M LEY GARNETT IN CLEVELAND.

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