Letters to the Editor

Letters published April 26, 1999

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Where The Heart Is
Another Disappointed Customer

Frank Kuznik's "Terrible Burden" [April 20] left me wondering whether I was in the same courtroom as he, or whether he truly understood the larger dynamics of this trial and the issues at stake. Don't get me wrong -- Kuznik was one of the few local journalists to show sensitivity to the Sheppard cause, as did former Plain Dealer columnist Joe Dirck. Frank was even allowed unprecedented access to the Sheppard family and supporters. Yet his attempt to discuss the trial in a virtual historical vacuum -- as if the end result boiled down to winning versus losing tactics -- shows the naïveté of an unseasoned trial reporter careful not to step on too many toes.

The reason justice has so often miserably failed in U.S. political trials (yes, this was a political trial on a multitude of levels) is because the real truth of the case becomes obscured. The "truth" is what those in power and in control approve of or are willing to tolerate. It's very insidious and often invisible to those of us, including even fair-minded judges and citizens, who don't want to confront the nagging uneasiness often left in the wake of an unfair legal proceeding.

If a society was truly concerned about compensating those who have been wrongfully imprisoned, we wouldn't have to endure the ordeal we all just experienced. We wouldn't have had to plead unsuccessfully to present to the jury the decision in Sheppard v. Maxwell, the Supreme Court's indictment of Cuyahoga County justice; we wouldn't have had to spend thousands of dollars in money and time to mount a powerful case that most people (who I suppose must now be stupid) saw as a no-brainer; we wouldn't have had to bring in some of the best forensic experts in the world to demonstrate how Sheppard could not have committed the crime. We wouldn't have had to prove an impossible legal standard called "preponderance of the evidence of innocence," whatever that means; we wouldn't have had to spend years pleading to deaf ears who failed to investigate a known murderer, whose blood was linked to the Sheppard murder scene, before he dies in prison; we wouldn't have to face a lay jury to deal with complex scientific evidence, the first allowance of a jury trial in the 15-year history of the law; and we wouldn't have had to face the obsessive law enforcement apparatus of Cuyahoga County -- the Coroner's Office, Prosecutor's Office, and Cleveland Police Department -- who fought this case as if their political lives and the legacy of those who preceded them depended on it.

A fair system would simply look at the harsh reality of what was done to this man and his family, and not permit a posthumous character assassination masquerading as a legitimate legal defense. We would simply recognize that the highest court found a breakdown in justice and a jury found him not guilty.

The trial was not a scene out of L.A. Law or The Practice. This was the last chapter of a 45-year-old political struggle for justice against all odds, a snippet of which was played out in an anaesthetized courtroom on the 20th floor of the Justice Center.

I am extremely disappointed that Kuznik, of all people, didn't get it. What we need are local journalists like Joe Dirck or Keith McKnight of the Beacon Journal, who are willing to take the heat and look beneath the surface of an issue -- even if it means making enemies of those in power. Kuznik copped out. Cleveland deserves better for an "alternative" weekly.

Terry Gilbert

Friedman and Gilbert

Champion of the Inarticulate

Since when is Frank Kuznik writing for The Plain Dealer? That is all I could think as I read his assessment of the Sheppard trial.

Having lobbied Sam and Terry to give Kuznik intimate access to our strategy meetings and other out-of-court gatherings, I looked forward to reading a fair review of what took place. I expected an evaluation that demonstrated why things ended up they way they did: what the jury was not allowed to hear; the antics of the defendants; why we should all be worried about the power of the state to convict the wrong people with impunity; and perhaps most important, why the people of Cleveland and the world should understand that this verdict says nothing about who murdered Marilyn Sheppard.

Fair evaluation is what most folks expect from a paper that calls itself "alternative." You failed to present an alternative viewpoint to the under-/mis-reporting by The Plain Dealer. Instead, you championed an inarticulate politician without presenting your readers with the information they look to you for. To my mind, that is a terrible disservice to your readers.

People should never have to go out of town to get fairness, objectivity, and accuracy in reporting. But when it comes to the Sheppard case, Clevelanders should read The Akron Beacon Journal.

Abraham J. Bonowitz

Friend and Advisor to Sam Reese Sheppard

A Breath of Fresh Ink

After seeing a couple of installments from Harvey Pekar, I must say that this is the best comic feature your publication has to offer. Unfortunately, the others are not close to being funny, clever, or interesting. Mr. Pekar's work has been a breath of fresh air. The commentary Mr. Pekar had on awards in general, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in particular, was right on the money.

Dennis Newman

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