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The Sam Sheppard Trial 2000: The Prosecution Introduces Coroner’s Inquest

Friday, March 31, 2000 at 9:51 AM

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The events surrounding the 1954 murder of Marilyn Sheppard are a big part of what the jury is listening to this week, as part of the wrongful imprisonment suit brought against the state of Ohio. The estate of the late Dr. Sam Sheppard says he spent 10 years in prison, unnecessarily for his wife's murder. Sheppard was acquitted of the crime in a 1966 retrial. 90.3's Yolanda Perdomo reports the Cuyahoga county prosecutor's office is presenting its side of the story, and might wrap up its case as early as next week.

Yolanda Perdomo- The Cuyahoga county prosecutor’s office, in the role of the defendant in the wrongful imprisonment suit, brought out testimony from the corner’s inquest. It was a three day event, where Dr. Sam Sheppard was subpoenaed by coroner Dr. Samuel Gerber to answer questions about his wife’s murder, at the Normandy school gymnasium. It was held in front of the public and the media, 3 months before his trial. Sheppard estate attorney Terry Gilbert vehemently objected to having that information read into the record.

Terry Gilbert- To allow the jury to hear this so-called testimony, this hearsay, without letting them know what the U.S. Supreme Court said about this inquest, is giving a half truth. Talk about misleading. We didn’t (put) this inquest in there because we thought it was such an aberration of American jurist prudence.

YP- But Judge Ronald Suster allowed the testimony, but instead of having two people act out the transcript, as was done for all of the other ‘54 transcript testimonies, he had one person be the coroner and Dr. Sam Sheppard. Judge Suster didn’t want the jury to think that it was an actual trial.

Question- Did he have a hat on?

Answer- As I told you, I couldn’t say.

Question- Was this a white person or a colored person?

Answer- I can’t say for sure, I somehow after encountering him, have the feeling it wasn’t a colored person

YP- Jurors in this civil trial listened to expert witnesses, people who knew Sheppard, and possibly something about the murder of his wife. In 1969, Sheppard signed a copy of his autobiography “Endure & Conquer” for Phyllis Moretti. The state brought in document and hand writing experts to ascertain whether Sheppard wrote the word YES under the printed text “DID SAM DO IT” on the inside of the book. And whether the word YES matched the Sam’s handwriting in the book’s dedication.

The State- Did there come an opportunity when you presented state’s exhibit 606 you book to Sam Sheppard?

Moretti- Yes, yes I did.

The State- And did you see him sign the book?

Moretti- Yes I did.

The State- Do you know what he wrote in the book?

Moretti- No.

YP- While she saw Sam writing in the book, she didn’t see what he wrote. And the book was left unattended for hours that night at a party when he signed it. Moretti also admitted to wanting to pen a manuscript about Dr. Sam Sheppard, and went to a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter to get some publicity on it. But that project never materialized. Jurors got a chance to hear from the man in question, if only for a few seconds. The state played an archived film of Dr. Sheppard talking to reporters about finding Marilyn’s killers.

Sheppard- I just hope that we can pursue this.

Reporter- Does this renew your hope the investigation will be pursued?

Sheppard- I’m hopeful, yes.

Reporter- Hopeful of what?

Sheppard- Pursuing the murderers of Marilyn Sheppard.

Reporter- You say murderers?

Sheppard- I always have sir.

YP- Among the other witnesses this week was Sheppard’s step mother-in-law. Mrs. Jane Reese took the stand as the state’s witness. Reese said she was numb when she first got the call from Sam’s brother Steven saying that Marilyn was dead. And was surprised when she couldn’t see Sam at the hospital after the crime. Nor was she allowed to see her step-grandson Sam Reese Sheppard. Jane Reese said she attended every day of the 1954 trial of which Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of murdering Marilyn. The trial, Sheppard attorneys say, was unfair and chaotic because of biased officials, and the unrestrained media. But when asked by Cuyahoga county prosecutor William Mason about the decorum of the courtroom, her recollection was much different.

Mason- Did you view what was going on in the court room when you were in the courtroom each day?

Reese- Yes, I was.

Mason- What was the demeanor of the courtroom?

Reese- I thought it was normal. It was. There many people here, but it was well-ordered.

Mason- Was it noisy?

Reese- No.

Mason- There were reporters?

Reese- Yes, there were.

YP- According to county prosecutor William Mason, they expect to wrap up their side of the case early next week. One of the witnesses they’re considering is Jim Neff. He’s a former Ohio State University journalism professor and ex-Plain Dealer reporter who’s been covering the trial for his new book, tentatively titled “Chasing The Fugitive”. Neff was subpoenaed, but his attorney filed a protective order earlier this month asking the judge to disallow his testimony. In Cleveland, this is Yolanda Perdomo 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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