CLEVELAND (AP) -- Prosecutors will exhume the body of Marilyn
Sheppard, whose husband was convicted, then acquitted in the
sensational 1950s killing that inspired "The Fugitive" television
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason reportedly wants to
exhume the body to do his own DNA analysis for the upcoming trial
in a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit filed by Dr. Sam Sheppard's son,
Sam Reese Sheppard.
Sheppard, who contends a window washer killed his mother in
1954, is trying to clear his late father's name once and for all.
The elder Sheppard spent 10 years in prison for the slaying before
courts set him free.
Sheppard, 51, accused the prosecutor of using the exhumation as
an excuse to delay the trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 18. Damages
could reach as much as $2 million.
"The DNA being used is contaminated," Cuyahoga County
Prosecutor William D. Mason told reporters today. "We need to get
a positive DNA sample."
Mason said the allegations focus on how Mrs. Sheppard died, but
he would not elaborate.
While Sheppard believes the evidence gathered will back up his
theory, he was personally offended by the prospect of his mother's
exhumation. He accused prosecutors of grandstanding to get in the
newspapers and on television.
"My mother was a very modest woman," he said in a telephone
interview from his Oakland, Calif., home early today. "This is an
insult on her in terms of her dignity. This is outrageous. They've
had 45 years to investigate this fully."
Mason said Ohio law gives him or the county coroner the
authority to exhume a body without a court order.
Sheppard spoke before the prosecutor made his announcement. His
attorney Terry Gilbert did not immediately return a message seeking
comment on whether lawyers would or could try to stop the
Mason said the remains will be exhumed within the next several
weeks but the date will not be announced out of respect for Mrs.
"We will make every effort to maintain the quiet and dignity of
the cemetery where she and so many other families' loved ones rest
in peace," Mason said.
The exhumation could delay by months the scheduled start of the
trial. For Sheppard to win, a jury will have to decide more
evidence points to his father being innocent than guilty.
Mrs. Sheppard was beaten on July 4, 1954, in her bedroom at the
couple's home on the shore of Lake Erie. Her husband was convicted
of murder later that year in a highly publicized trial, but
insisted that a bushy-haired intruder killed his wife, then knocked
him unconscious when he came to her aid.
The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the verdict in a
landmark decision that cited the unfair effect of pretrial
publicity. Sheppard was acquitted at a retrial in 1966. He died in
1970 of liver failure.
Mrs. Sheppard's remains are in a crypt at Knollwood Cemetery in
suburban Mayfield Heights. The cremated remains of her husband also
are in the crypt. He was exhumed in 1997, at the request of Sam
DNA evidence from that exhumation indicated former window washer
Richard Eberling could be the killer. Eberling died in prison last
year while serving time for an unrelated murder.
Gilbert said prosecutors want to clarify the nature of the
wounds Mrs. Sheppard received, including injuries to her teeth.
Two of Mrs. Sheppard's teeth were broken when she was beaten to
death. Criminologist Paul Kirk, whose testimony helped clear the
doctor at his second trial in 1966, concluded that Mrs. Sheppard
bit her attacker -- who then pulled the teeth out when he jerked his
Gilbert said the evidence will support the fact that Sheppard is
"In fact it will just confirm what the world seems to know at
this point that an innocent man had been convicted of a crime he
didn't commit and that the state had no interest in 45 years in
correcting the terrible injustice," Gilbert said.