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Samuel Sheppard Trials: 1954 and 1966 - The Carnival Begins

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Samuel Sheppard Trials: 1954 and 1966 - The Carnival Begins, Morals, Not Murder, A Second Chance, Suggestions For Further Reading

The Carnival Begins

Amid unprecedented ballyhoo, on Monday, October 18, the state of Ohio opened its case against Sheppard. Judge Edward Blythin set the tone early. A candidate for re-election in the upcoming November ballot, he shamelessly curried favor with the press, issuing handwritten passes for the elite like Dorothy Kilgallen and Bob Considine, even providing them their own special table at which to sit. Blythin presided over a madcap bazaar of popping flash bulbs, vindictive reporters and hideous uproar, what the New York Times would later describe as "a Roman circus."

Prosecutor John Mahon made the most of what was a wafer-thin case. In the absence of any direct evidence against the defendant, other than he was in the house when Marilyn Sheppard was killed, Mahon emphasized the inconsistencies in Sam Sheppard's story. Why was there no sand in his hair when he claimed to have been sprawled on the beach? Where was the T-shirt that he had been wearing? Had bloodstains received during the attack forced him to destroy it? And why would a burglar first take the belongings in the canvas bag and then ditch them? Besides which, said Mahon, "Police … could find no evidence that anyone had broken in." For motive, Mahon pointed to Sheppard's affair with Susan Hayes, a lab technician at the family hospital, as reason enough for him to want to be rid of his wife.

Initially, the lack of a murder weapon posed problems for the prosecution, but Cuyahoga County Coroner Samuel R. Gerber neatly circumvented this discrepancy by telling the court that a bloody imprint found on the pillow beneath Marilyn Sheppard's head was made by a "two-bladed surgical instrument with teeth on the end of each blade," probably the missing weapon. Inexplicably, the defense attorneys left this vague assertion unchallenged, an omission which caused irreparable damage to their client's case.

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