Sheppard's son continues fight

By John Affleck Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS - Dr. Sam Sheppard's son says he will keep trying to clear his father's name in the 1954 slaying of his mother, regardless of how the Ohio Supreme Court rules in a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit. Prosecutors asked the high court Tuesday to throw out a suit filed by Sam Reese Sheppard claiming his father was wrongfully imprisoned for the beating death of his wife. It's unknown when the Supreme Court will rule. The case helped inspire "The Fugitive" TV series and movie. Dr. Sheppard claimed a bushy-haired intruder killed Marilyn Sheppard at the couple's home on Lake Erie and then knocked him unconscious. But a Cuyahoga County jury convicted him of murder. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the verdict in 1964, and Sheppard was acquitted at a second trial two years later. Sheppard died of liver failure in 1970 at age 46. The younger Sheppard, who has been campaigning for years to clear his father's name, could collect about $2 million in damages if he wins his wrongful imprisonment lawsuit. He says money is not the issue. "The state is not being accountable," Sheppard said outside court Tuesday. "That's outrageous and that needs to change. "We are moving ahead and even if we are thrown out on this issue we will have other avenues. There are federal courts. We will solve this case," said Sheppard, 50, who lives in Oakland, Calif. Prosecutors told the high court Tuesday that the statute of limitations for the case ran out years ago. Dr. Sheppard could have sought a wrongful imprisonment declaration from the Legislature, not a court, a team of three Cuyahoga County prosecutors argued. A lawyer for the younger Sheppard argued the doctor was, indeed, innocent. And it's never too late to set the record straight, lawyer Terry Gilbert told the court. The seven judges spent much of Tuesday's 40-minute hearing wondering aloud if it would be right for the state Supreme Court to throw out the case before the lawsuit can go to trial. Normally, statute of limitation disputes are decided during a trial or on appeal after a trial, and are not immediately dismissed by the high court. "What's to keep any litigant who thinks they've got a slam dunk case from just coming to the Supreme Court?" Justice Paul E. Pfeifer asked prosecutors. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Stephanie Tubbs Jones said her office shouldn't have to try a case in which much evidence is lost, many witnesses have died and which began "when I was 5 years old." "Time's up," she said. Attorneys for Sheppard and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald Suster, who rejected two previous dismissal requests, said Ohio law allows descendants to carry on wrongful imprisonment lawsuits. "People who are wrongfully imprisoned have a right to receive exoneration from the state," Gilbert said outside court. "It doesn't matter if it was last year or 40 years ago." The Sheppard legal team believe DNA and other evidence indicate Mrs. Sheppard was slain by Richard Eberling, a window-washer for the couple serving a life sentence in prison for murdering another woman. Eberling has denied killing Mrs. Sheppard.

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