Sam Reese Sheppard said he is "dubious" about the findings in the most recent book published about the murder case that has been known as the trial of the century.
Sheppard, the son of Marilyn Sheppard and Dr. Sam Sheppard, spoke at Kent State University Tuesday _ the same day many news media carried the story about the latest Sheppard murder case book to hit bookstores.
Sheppard referred to the irony of another book with another theory being released on the day of his speech. While the good intentions of amateur detectives do much to increase public interest in the case, Sheppard is not one to get his hopes up on the most recent theory.
According to Sheppard, he was aware of the book prior to the news story's publication. Sheppard had talked to the man who organized the information for the book _ former FBI agent Bernard Conners. In his book, "Tailspin," Conners contends former Mantua resident Air Force Maj. James Arlon Call, killed Marilyn Sheppard during a cross-country crime spree.
More than 48 years after the murder and trial, the Sheppard case still commands attention. Sheppard mentioned he is to be interviewed by German television later this month.
Sheppard was the keynote speaker for the Friends of the Library Tuesday. More than 50 cubic feet of Sheppard family documents and Sheppard's personal documents have been acquired by KSU Archives and Special Collections. Sheppard described key events in his life and the corresponding papers that shed light on how he coped with the murder of his mother and the trials of his father.
In a speech that was poignant and moving, Sheppard described how the life of the perfect American family, was shattered with the murder of his mother and what Sheppard describes as the "unfair trial" of his father. Sheppard described how his life has been changed and his taking up the causes of abolition of the death penalty and strengthening of prison reform.
"I refuse to call it a trial. It was a circus, a mockery of justice, a Roman holiday," Sheppard said about the U.S. Supreme Court findings on his father's 1954 trial.
Through KSU Archives, Sheppard said he wanted scholars to have the opportunity to learn more about the case and to get to know his family.
In describing his family, the sentiments and experiences were those of many families. His parents were childhood sweethearts. Marilyn was the high school cheerleader and Sam was the high school athlete. When Marilyn graduated and went away to college, they wrote to each other every day. In referring to Dr. Sheppard, the son used the term "Dad" throughout his talk.
Sheppard is hopeful that other family members and parties involved in the case also will make their documents available to KSU Archives, home of the largest true crime collection in the country.
These papers provide incredible areas of study _ media, law, psychology, sociology, literature, prison reform, pop culture and others. The use of technology in journalism is a topic for research _ comparing the role and abuse of print media in the Sheppard trial with the role and abuse of television media in the Simpson trial.
Usually the task of processing archival materials is an impartial, emotionless task. According to KSU Archivist Nancy Birk, for the first time in her archival career, she found herself in tears.
"As I read the letters that Dr. Sam Sheppard wrote to Marilyn Reese during their courtship, as I handled the drawings that Sam as a child sent to his father in prison and as I read the countless correspondence back and forth between Dr. Sam and his brothers over family members so deeply affected by the tragedy, I felt their pain," Birk said.
According to Sheppard he was not given a real explanation for what happened.
"No one told me about the trial and no one sat me down, looked me in the eye and told me what happened. To this day I am learning the macabre details," he said.
The thought of his father facing the death penalty "terrorized" Sheppard.
"Because my father was not hateable enough to be executed, it gave me a chance at life," Sheppard said.
Also the popularity of the TV series "The Fugitive" that has become symbolic of the case, brought a story line of an innocent man being railroaded to death row every Sunday night, Sheppard added.
His father was released in July 1966 and found not guilty in November 1966 in the second trial ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Dr. Sheppard died in April of 1970 at the age of 46.
By 1989 Sheppard had become an advocate to do away with the death penalty. He is a founding member of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and a past board member of Journey of Hope _ from Violence to Healing. He is the co-author of the book "Mockery of Justice."
In addition to his advocacy for causes, Sheppard writes poetry and songs. He is working on an autobiography.