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Marilyn Sheppard Body To Be Exhumed

August 20, 1999 GMT

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Prosecutors will exhume the body of Marilyn Sheppard, whose husband was convicted, then acquitted in the sensational 1950s killing that inspired ``The Fugitive″ television series.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason reportedly wants to exhume the body to do his own DNA analysis for the upcoming trial in a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit filed by Dr. Sam Sheppard’s son, Sam Reese Sheppard.

Sheppard, who contends a window washer killed his mother in 1954, is trying to clear his late father’s name once and for all. The elder Sheppard spent 10 years in prison for the slaying before courts set him free.

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Sheppard, 51, accused the prosecutor of using the exhumation as an excuse to delay the trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 18. Damages could reach as much as $2 million.

``The DNA being used is contaminated,″ Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William D. Mason told reporters today. ``We need to get a positive DNA sample.″

Mason said the allegations focus on how Mrs. Sheppard died, but he would not elaborate.

While Sheppard believes the evidence gathered will back up his theory, he was personally offended by the prospect of his mother’s exhumation. He accused prosecutors of grandstanding to get in the newspapers and on television.

``My mother was a very modest woman,″ he said in a telephone interview from his Oakland, Calif., home early today. ``This is an insult on her in terms of her dignity. This is outrageous. They’ve had 45 years to investigate this fully.″ But he said he wouldn’t contest it in court.

Mason said Ohio law gives him or the county coroner the authority to exhume a body without a court order.

Mason said the remains will be exhumed within the next several weeks but the date will not be announced out of respect for Mrs. Sheppard’s memory.

``We will make every effort to maintain the quiet and dignity of the cemetery where she and so many other families’ loved ones rest in peace,″ Mason said.

The exhumation could delay by months the scheduled start of the trial. For Sheppard to win, a jury will have to decide more evidence points to his father being innocent than guilty.

Mrs. Sheppard was beaten on July 4, 1954, in her bedroom at the couple’s home on the shore of Lake Erie. Her husband was convicted of murder later that year in a highly publicized trial, but insisted that a bushy-haired intruder killed his wife, then knocked him unconscious when he came to her aid.

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The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the verdict in a landmark decision that cited the unfair effect of pretrial publicity. Sheppard was acquitted at a retrial in 1966. He died in 1970 of liver failure.

Mrs. Sheppard’s remains are in a crypt at Knollwood Cemetery in suburban Mayfield Heights. The cremated remains of her husband also are in the crypt. He was exhumed in 1997, at the request of Sam Reese Sheppard.

DNA evidence from that exhumation indicated former window washer Richard Eberling could be the killer. Eberling died in prison last year while serving time for an unrelated murder.

The prosecutor mentioned only a DNA test. He wouldn’t comment today on the claim by Terry Gilbert, Sam Reese Sheppard’s attorney, that prosecutors want to clarify the nature of the wounds Mrs. Sheppard received, including injuries to her teeth.

Two of Mrs. Sheppard’s teeth were broken when she was beaten to death. Criminologist Paul Kirk, whose testimony helped clear the doctor at his second trial in 1966, concluded that Mrs. Sheppard bit her attacker _ who then pulled the teeth out when he jerked his hand away.

Gilbert said the evidence will support the fact that Sheppard is innocent.

``In fact it will just confirm what the world seems to know at this point that an innocent man had been convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and that the state had no interest in 45 years in correcting the terrible injustice,″ Gilbert said.