Trial and Error

Sheppard lawyers track down a new mystery: What happened to the case exhibits?

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It was shaping up to be another great mystery in the never-ending Marilyn Sheppard murder case. A few weeks ago, lawyers preparing Sam Reese Sheppard's appeal came to a jolting discovery: Key exhibits in the case had disappeared.

Following last year's trial, in which Sam Reese failed to win a declaration of innocence for his father, the court clerk's office was responsible for delivering the 500-plus exhibits across the street to the Eighth District Court of Appeals. But when Sheppard attorney George Carr recently checked on the evidence, he found only two boxes. Missing were the complete transcripts of the first two trials, dozens of photos from the crime scene, and the handwritten notes of Dr. Sam Sheppard.

The discovery didn't bode well for the Sheppard case. Though Dr. Sam was first convicted of killing his pregnant wife in 1954, then acquitted in 1966, his son must win a declaration of innocence in order to sue the state for wrongfully imprisoning his father. But neither Common Pleas Judge Ronald Suster nor the prosecutor's office seemed particularly interested in helping Sam Reese's lawyers locate the items, the attorneys say.

So they filed a motion with the appellate court requesting its intervention.

It wasn't the first time evidence disappeared. Over the years, the entire prosecutor's file from the first trial vanished, as did forensic evidence. Attorneys on both sides recognize the prurient value of such items.

"There are people who have exploited this case for its profile," Sheppard lawyer Terry Gilbert maintains. "The entire Cleveland police file was nonexistent until it surfaced through a journalist in this last trial."

But what at first seemed like another mystery may prove a simple case of bureaucratic confusion. Suster says he still has some boxes from the trial, and Prosecutor Bill Mason has 30 boxes, yet both men say they were unaware that Sheppard's lawyers had filed the motion. "I have no doubt they've been misplaced and they'll turn up," Mason says. "If they do not, I have a copy of everything."

Not long after Scene contacted Mason's office, the prosecutor called Carr to assure him that he would look into the matter.

"That's the power of the press," says Carr.

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