The son of Sam Sheppard, who was convicted and then acquitted of killing his wife 45 years ago, is outraged that prosecutors will exhume his mother's remains and said the plan is only a means to delay a trial to clear his father's name.
"We don't understand why they're doing this. It's outrageous," Sam Reese Sheppard, 52, said today after learning that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason ordered the exhumation.
Sheppard's father spent 10 years in prison after being convicted of killing his wife, Marilyn, in a sensational 1950s case that inspired "The Fugitive" television series. The Supreme Court overturned the verdict in a landmark decision that cited the unfair effect of pretrial publicity. Then the elder Sheppard was acquitted in a retrial in 1966.
Sheppard, who contends a window washer killed his mother, has filed a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit to try to clear his father's name. The trial is to begin Oct. 18. Damages could be as much as $2 million.
Today, Mason said his experts, which include an anthropologist, forensic dentist and DNA expert, needed to exhume Marilyn Sheppard's body to get new samples of her DNA. The remains will be exhumed within the next several weeks.
"The DNA being used, in our opinion, has been contaminated, so we need to get a positive profile so we can evaluate that with some of the evidence that was taken at the scene," he said.
Sheppard's lawyer, Terry Gilbert, said he was looking into whether Mason can exhume the body without a court order. Mason said Ohio law gives him or the county coroner that authority.
"We're not trying to obstruct any reasonable effort to get at the truth if it's viable, but to just go and exhume a body in the hopes of maybe finding something is not appropriate," Gilbert said.
But Mason said the exhumation became necessary after he reviewed legal documents that his office received 10 days ago from Sheppard's attorneys. He would say only that their reports focus on how Marilyn Sheppard died.
Sheppard scoffed at prosecutors, pointing out that everything his attorneys filed had been published previously. "We don't understand what they expect to find," he said.
The remains of Sheppard's father, who died in 1970, were exhumed for DNA samples in 1997 at the son's request. The younger Sheppard said he asked for the exhumation only because of criticism of blood evidence that his investigative team had found.
Because prosecutors will need time to analyze the scientific data from Marilyn Sheppard's exhumation, the trial could be delayed two to three months, Mason said.
For Sheppard to win his lawsuit, a jury will have to decide that more evidence points to his father being innocent than guilty.
CAPTION: Dr. Sam Sheppard is returned to his jail cell on Dec. 21, 1954, after a jury found him guilty of killing his wife, Marilyn.