Today marks the end of week seven in the Sam Sheppard wrongful imprisonment trial. This week, jurors got a chance to go back in time-to 1954-when Dr. Sheppard took the stand in his own defense in what was labeled "the trial of the century." 90.3's Yolanda Perdomo brings us up to date on this week's events.
Yolanda Perdomo- The week began with transcript testimony from the first Sheppard trial in 1954. Those transcripts are the foundation of the state's attempt to prove that Dr. Sam Sheppard was and still is the only suspect in the 1954 slaying. Before this civil trial got started, attorneys for the estate of Dr. Sam Sheppard fought bitterly to exclude anything having to do with the '54 case when the young doctor was convicted of murder. But before the jury came into the courtroom....words were exchanged between the attorneys in front of Judge Ronald Suster. Each side blaming the other for personal attacks while they're trying to present their case.
Terry Gilbert- Unless you can show a like to having an affair to killing his wife, it is unfair character evidence. Now, just sit, relax Kathleen, the court will get to you in a minute.
YP- That prompted this response from Assistant Cuyahoga county prosecutor Kathleen Martin, and comments from Judge Ronald Suster:
Kathleen Martin- I'll try to make this plain to Mr. Gilbert. I don't know if he doesn't see it because he is a man or because he is an advocate.
TG- I resent that argument. Once again, we're personalizing things.
KM- You started this today.
Judge Suster- How did he start this?
KM- He told me to sit down, and essentially be in my place.
Judge Suster- Now, c'mon, I can't believe how many times we get into this. Let me just suggest, Kathleen, you did get up and he wasn't finished, so if maybe he didn't say it gentle enough for you, I don't know. But we're in the middle of a lawsuit here. I submit to you that he did tell you to sit down, but he wasn't finished.
YP- But witnesses from the '54 trial made their way this week to the Cuyahoga county court of common pleas. They were read into the record by assistant county prosecutors playing the roles of people who are now deceased. Making posthumous appearances were Carl Rossbach the Cuyahoga county deputy sheriff who investigated the crime; Dr. Lester Hoversten, a college friend of Dr. Sheppard's, and a house guest who stayed with the family until a day before the murder. In his testimony, Hoversten said that Sam talked to him about divorce, but he cautioned him against it. That testimony contradicted Dr. Sheppard's testimony that indicated that he never spoke about divorcing his wife. Hoversten also recalled the day after the murder when he saw Dr. Sheppard in the hospital.
Dr. Lester Hoversten- There was a guard, a police guard outside at the door.
Q- And did you have some talk with Sam as you entered?
A- Yes. I walked up to his bed and, as I recall correctly, I took his hand, and Dr. Sam started to cry. And I remember he said 'my God I wish they had killed me instead of Marilyn. Chip needs Marilyn more as a mother than he does me'. Sam didn't say too much and I comforted him as best I could.
YP- Dr. Sheppard's transcribed testimony took several days to complete. According to the trial transcript, Sheppard said he had a happy marriage...and with little discord. But when trying to describe the night of the murder and the events following his wife's killing, Sheppard admitted to being foggy and unclear about what he saw, what he heard, and who may have been around.
Q- Now as you enter the door, the nearest bed was occupied by who?
Dr. Sam Sheppard- By my wife.
Q- And that would be, would that be to your left as you enter the door?
A- That's true. That's correct.
A- Yes sir.
Q- And where was this form in relation to that bed?
A- Again, I can't say definitely. But I would say next to the bed at the foot of the bed. You're asking me sir to give specific things about something that happened just before being knocked out. And undergoing a situation and I just find it impossible to state some of these things clearly.
Taking the stand this week through a videotaped deposition was Susan Hayes, now Susan Benitez, who was deposed in California last month. Jurors heard edited testimony from the woman who Sheppard had first denied, but later admitted to having an affair with during a three year period. The Sheppard estate contends the affair was short and didn't mean anything. The Cuyahoga county prosecutor's office maintains that the affair is proof positive that Sheppard was in an unhappy marriage. That his wife was upset about his philandering...and that it created an atmosphere that drove Sheppard to kill Marilyn.
The state has additional transcript testimony to present to the jury before resting its case....which is scheduled for the end of next week. In Cleveland, Yolanda Perdomo 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.