Sam Sheppard trials On July 4, 1954, the wife of a handsome young doctor, Sam Sheppard, was brutally murdered in the bedroom of their home in Bay Village, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie. Sheppard denied any involvement in the murder and described his own battle with the killer he described as “bushy-haired. ” Starting on the day of the murder, the media began to attack Sheppard on any occasion they could. Stories were obtained in unethical, and nearly unlawful ways. Even though they were permitted to do so by the courts, going into Sheppard’s house and looking through his belongings was not the most ethical practice.
Also, though the courts also allowed them to witness the testimony of Sheppard about his wife’s death, they really shouldn’t have agreed. Stories were written in an unscrupulous manner. The “trial before the trial” was a meeting between the coroner, Samuel Gerber, and Sheppard, in which Gerber fired questions at Sheppard in front of the entire community – without Sheppard’s lawyer present. The media was allowed to sit in on this hearing and wrote stories about Sheppard being unfairly given too much leeway as a murder suspect (law2).
Finally, the amount of stories written about the trial and murder was higher than had been printed in Cleveland about a single murder. Cleveland newspapers printed stories almost every single day for the duration of the situation. Most of these were speculation only, however, or editorials that were run on the front page and believed to be actual articles. Because of the way these stories were run, the jury and most of Cleveland believed that Sheppard was, in fact, guilty (384 U. S. 333, 363). The stories written through the duration of the murder case were one of the main things that were detrimental to Sheppard’s case.
One of the detectives investigating the case was quoted by a newspaper stating that “scientific tests at the Sheppard home have definitely established that the killer washed off a trail of blood from the murder bedroom to the downstairs section”. This led the public to believe that Sheppard was lying during his testimony, and believe it, they did. However, over ten years later, the Supreme Court ruled that Sheppard’s trial had been unfair due to the Fourteenth Amendment – that everyone shall have the right to a fair trial with an impartial jury.
This, of course, was something that Sheppard had not gotten, due to the media. The court saw that, and believed it was true. So, because of the media’s influence over the jury before and during the trial, Sheppard was released from prison. Sam Sheppard was attacked by the media’s unethical practices so much during his trial that journalism had set new boundaries to limit the power of the press following the final verdict. Because of the way that the media went about getting stories for their papers and the way stories were written, Sheppard was released from prison.
Journalism then set up new boundaries to assure that every person accused of a crime got a fair and just trial. Even though he set precedent for new practices that the media still follows, it is a shame that it took something as horrific as his wife’s murder to allow the media to see just how much power they had over justice. Work cited Affleck, John. “Doctors Exhume Sam Sheppard’s Body as Son Seeks to Clear Fathers Name”. Associated Press. 18 September 1997: A3. . Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U. S. 333 (United States Supreme Court 1966). http://law2. umkc. edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/sheppard/Sheppard. htm