Thursday, February 3, 2000 at 2:25 PM
Pretrial motions in the Sam Sheppard civil case is expected to wrap up this week. Work on selecting a jury may get underway as early as next week. Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted and later acquitted on appeal of killing his wife Marilyn in the summer of 1954. Their son Sam Reese Sheppard wants his father declared innocent of the crime. The Cuyahoga county prosecutor's office and lawyers for Sam Reese have been arguing this week over the admissibility of evidence. As 90.3's/INFOHIO's Yolanda Perdomo reports, a ruling on the pretrial motions is expected tomorrow.
After three days of pretrial motions, Judge Ronald Suster will rule on a variety of evidential issues. They include testimony from the original murder trial in 1954, a 1950's flashlight, and interviews with former Sheppard window washer Richard Eberling. Attorneys for Sam Reese Sheppard want to include information about Richard Eberling. They have named him as a possible suspect in Marilyn's murder. Eberling died last year in prison while serving for the murder of Ethel Durkin. He was also suspected in the deaths of four other women. Cuyahoga county prosecutor William Mason says those pieces of evidence bear no relevance to the trial.
William Mason- Things that they're bringing in to add to the innuendoes that has been going on for the past five years about whether or not Richard Eberling committed this murder. It's part of the bubble gum and kite string that they put together to put this case together. And all we're asking you to do is to adhere to the rules of evidence that we practice in the courtroom. And apply these rules to their evidence....Exhibit number 5 is the name change of Richard Eberling. Exhibit number 6 is his selective service documents...exhibit number 88 is a flashlight recovered on the beach of Bay Village 13 months after the murder. And they would like to make the innuendo that somehow that this flashlight because it rolls up on the beach in Bay Village, has something to do with the murder on July 4, 1954. And that's the bubble gum they're trying to put together.
YP- But Sheppard's attorneys say those things are not only relevant, but are important clues in clearing Dr. Sam Sheppard of the brutal murder. Terry Gilbert is a lawyer representing the Sheppard family. He says a forensic psychiatrist will be called in to give testimony on Richard Eberling...and as for the flashlight, Gilbert says it's obvious why his team wants it admitted as evidence.
Terry Gilbert- I mean it is unbelievable that Mr. Mason would come in here and say that it's not relevant. Because it will be shown in this trial that a flashlight was the kind of weapon that could have been used to cause this murder. We have a double standard here. I could do the same thing with them. I could file the same kind of motions about all the things that they intend to bring into the case. Because we have a list of over 150 items of evidence....and we could attack each and every one of them. But what's the point? Because the court would not be in a position to deal with any particular piece of evidence at this point in the proceeding without hearing where the trial goes.
YP- One thing that both sides have to agree on soon is the jury questionnaire. It's the form given to those who may be selected as jurors in this third Sheppard trial. The fact that the dramatic case has a tremendous amount of history may be a problem for the prosecution and the defense says Jeffrey Mearns. He's a partner at the law firm of Thompson, Hine, and Flory. Mearns, a former prosecutor and an adjunct criminal trial professor at Case Western Reserve University. He says even a little knowledge about the Sheppard case could make it hard to find impartial jurors.
Jeffrey Mearns- The fact that the jury pool will have some familiarity with the case will make it more difficult to pick a jury. But it will also give both parties and their attorneys a little bit more information about the people that they're dealing with in their jury pool.
YP- Mearns says that in a typical criminal trial, the prosecution wants a jury to consist of a few strong leaders with the rest of the jury made of people who by their personality or demeanor suggest they are likely to follow those leaders. Conversely, the defense wants free and independent thinkers. But because this is a civil case, Mearns says the roles are reversed.
JM- I think the prosecution case will require jurors to draw inferences from circumstantial evidence. They're going to want jurors who can understand how to piece together a case piece by piece. As opposed to simply accepting the testimony of one witness. The defense...is going to want intelligent people. They are gong to want people who are willing to be skeptical of the law enforcement establishment, who are willing to analyze and scrutinize the evidence and the inferences that the prosecutors are going to want the jurors to draw from that evidence.
YP- The two sides in the case are meeting in Cuyahoga county court today. Instead, county prosecutors are in California deposing Susan Hayes. She was Sam Sheppard's mistress in 1954. On Friday, Judge Suster is scheduled to rule on what he will allow as evidence in this Sheppard trial. Jury selection is expected to begin next week.
For INFOHIO, I'm Yolanda Perdomo in Cleveland.