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Sam Sheppard

Character Assassination

Sheppard's trial was set to begin October 18 with Sheppard maintaining his story that he had confronted and fought the attacker. Extensive pretrial publicity across the country made the case so notorious that it resulted in a frenzied atmosphere when the trial date finally arrived. Outside the courthouse, on the sidewalks and steps, the national media waited to take pictures of Sheppard and other trial participants.

Inside the courtroom the judge allowed space to be reserved for television and newspaper reporters. Broadcasting facilities for radio were set up at the courthouse so newscasts could be made daily throughout the trial. Records of the day's proceedings in court were printed word-for-word by newspapers, accompanied by photographs of the participants and exhibits introduced at trial. The new medium of television made the media exposure unprecedented in American history.

On the first day of the trial, the jury viewed the scene of the murder. One representative of the news media was permitted to accompany the jury while they inspected the Sheppard home. Hundreds more reporters, cameramen, and onlookers waited outside. On December 17 the case was submitted to the jury for deliberation. They returned four days later with a guilty verdict. Sheppard was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The Cleveland Press sold thirty thousand extra copies of their newspaper on the night of the verdict.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawSam Sheppard - A Promising Future, Independence Day, Character Assassination, F. Lee Bailey, An Acquittal