Sam Sheppard was at the center of the highest profile crime in Ohio history. It contained “[m]urder and mystery, society, sex and suspense.” In the early morning hours of July 4, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard, four months pregnant with her second child, was beaten to death in her bed in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village. The authorities quickly focused their suspicion on her husband, Sam, a prominent osteopathic physician, and charged him with first-degree murder. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The state courts affirmed, and the Supreme Court denied direct review. Then in 1966, on habeas corpus, the Supreme Court set aside the conviction in a landmark ruling that held that the original trial had been tainted by prejudicial publicity. Sheppard was acquitted later that year at what has been called “The Retrial of the Century” and died in 1970. A quarter-century after his death, representatives of Sam Sheppard’s estate filed suit for a declaration of innocence that would serve as a predicate for seeking compensation for his wrongful imprisonment. The moving force behind this lawsuit was Sam Reese Sheppard, who as a seven-year-old boy slept soundly through the night in the bedroom adjacent to the one where his mother was murdered. The Ohio Supreme Court allowed this civil case to go to trial. In April 2000, a jury ruled against the estate, and the state courts once more affirmed.
Part I of this essay assesses the book. Some of the larger questions are considered next. Part II addresses the absence of a system of interlocutory appeal in Ohio civil cases, which unfortunately prevented pretrial resolution of the controlling legal questions in the third Sheppard case: whether the statute of limitations had run on the innocence action and whether the claim had died with Sam Sheppard. Part III uses this case to ponder further questions about the meaning of innocence and the government’s responsibilities to persons who are wrongfully imprisoned.
Entin, Jonathan L.
"Being the Government Means (Almost) Never Having to Say You're Sorry: The Sam Sheppard Case and the Meaning of Wrongful Imprisonment,"
Akron Law Review: Vol. 38
, Article 5.
Available at: https://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/akronlawreview/vol38/iss1/5