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Bailey Testifies in Sheppard Case

February 16, 2000 GMT

CLEVELAND (AP) _ F. Lee Bailey, who won acquittal for Dr. Sam Sheppard at the doctor’s second murder trial, testified Tuesday that two neighbors killed Marilyn Sheppard in the 1954 case that partly inspired ``The Fugitive″ TV series.

Bailey’s version of the murder is at odds with the theory supported by the Sheppards’ son, Sam Reese Sheppard, who has sued the state claiming his late father was wrongfully imprisoned for 10 years for his mother’s death.

Bailey, the celebrity lawyer who also helped defend O.J. Simpson, was the first witness. Sheppard’s lawyers want him to show the doctor’s first trial in 1954 was unfair because of a flood of negative news reports.

A few years after Bailey took the case, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the first trial’s verdict in a landmark ruling against pretrial prejudice from adverse media publicity. Sheppard’s acquittal came at a 1966 retrial.

The doctor told authorities repeatedly that a bushy-haired intruder at the family home on Lake Erie early on July 4, 1954, beat his wife to death in her bed. Sheppard said he was knocked unconscious twice while trying to help his wife.

Under cross-examination, Bailey said Sheppard told him privately he might have confronted two people.

Bailey testified that Spencer and Esther Houk, neighbors of the Sheppards, may be responsible for Mrs. Sheppard’s beating death. Bailey said Mrs. Houk might have caught her husband and Mrs. Sheppard having sex.

Both Houks have been dead for years. After Sheppard’s 1966 trial, Bailey’s theory was presented to a grand jury, which decided against indicting the Houks.

Sam Reese Sheppard thinks a window washer for the family, Richard Eberling, was the murderer. Eberling was convicted in 1989 of killing an elderly widow; he died in prison.

Bailey also conceded that Sheppard did not recognize Eberling as the killer when Eberling testified at Sheppard’s 1966 retrial.

``That did not happen,″ Bailey said.

Prosecutor Steve Dever said during an argument without the jury present that Bailey’s testimony is important because it showed Sheppard changed his story about the killing.

However Bailey said Sheppard was consistent.

``I think the bushy-haired man got a life of his own,″ Bailey said. ``That was one feature of the assailant that Sam could remember.″

Also testifying Tuesday were Richard and Betty Knitter, a couple who said they were driving home the night Sheppard was killed when they saw a suspicious man with bushy hair near the Sheppard home about 3 a.m.

``He had a terrified look on his face,″ Richard Knitter said.