The Media and the Trial

The outcome of the eventual Sheppard trial is interesting and obviously applicable to what I am talking about, but what is really interesting in this case is the immense amount of media attention that this trial took on and how this media attention may or may not have affected the outcome of the case. The trial itself was held under the supervision of Judge Edward J. Blythin in Ohio State Court. The case was The State of Ohio vs. Sam Sheppard (1954). Before the case had even started, the media attention surrounding it was immense and with an obvious bias towards Sheppard. Newspapers throughout the Cleveland area were printing headlines that placed the guilt squarely on the shoulders of Sheppard before the trial had begun and mostly before Sheppard had even been formally arrested. The Cleveland Press had been running headlines that had said "Somebody Is Getting Away With Murder" and "Why Isn't Sam Sheppard in Jail?" before Sheppard had even been taken into custody by the police. When Sheppard was arrested by the police under a barrage of criticism from the mass media, and all the jurors for the case were in the process of being selected, the names of the sixty-four jurors that the court had to pick from were listed in the newspaper along with their addresses and phone numbers.

Judge Edward J. Blythin

This made them celebrities of sort and allowed members of the media as well as people who had nothing to do with the case to contact them and give them their opinion. As if the press wasn't already having a field day with this case, Judge Blythin allowed his courtroom to be jam packed with reporters onboth the national level and local level and he even blocked off another room so that radio reporters could do their reports from their. The never-ending whirlwind of media exposure got even worse as the trial went on and the case against Sheppard got underway. During the case, New York gossip columnist Walter Winchell broadcasted allegations that women had come forward and admitted to having a baby that was Sam Sheppard's. The jurors were never really sequestered or prohibited from using the phone or reading the newspaper during the trial so they too were exposed to all this media propaganda. The witnesses were also exposed to the influence of the media because even though they weren't allowed to be in the courtroom during the trial, they were allowed to read transcripts of the trial in the newspaper that were printed out verbatim. In what was one of the most blatant examples of how the media was able to get into the minds of the public, one newspaper actually had a quote from the judge himself saying, "Sheppard was guilty as hell."(ACLPP, 188) Needless to say, with all the media attention surrounding the case and the constant barrage of bad media placed on Dr. Sheppard, it took the jury only four days to discuss the evidence and reach a verdict that found Sam Sheppard guilty of murder in the second degree. Upon hearing the guilty verdict, it took only a few minutes before Judge Blythin sentenced Sam Sheppard to life in prison.

The defense never rested after the guilty verdict and they continued to try for an appeal of the case based on the fact that "the massive, pervasive and prejudicial publicity attending Sheppard's prosecution prevented him from receiving a fair trial, consistent with the due process clause of the 14th Amendment."(CRFC, 1) At this point in time Sheppard's original lawyer William Corrigan had passed away and a young lawyer named F. Lee Bailey was brought in to help with the appeals process. Bailey was trying to appeal to the federal courts because he felt that Sheppard did not receive a fair trial based on the fact that the media was allowed to play such an influential role in covering the trial and also because the jury itself was allowed to be subjected to what was being said in the media. Bailey eventually filed a habeas corpus petition in federal district courts and was able to get Sheppard out of jail because the federal district court said that Sheppard's original trial "fell below the minimum requirements for due process."(ACLPP, 188) District Court Judge Carl Weinman was the judge who presented the new decision and he was quoted as saying that original Sheppard case was a "mockery of justice."(CRFC, 1) On July 16, 1964, Dr. Sam Sheppard was released from prison after spending close to ten years locked away. The decision by the District Court was appealed again by prosecutors who felt that Sheppard was still a guilty man and whom also felt that the verdict of guilty reached in the first trial was consistent with the fact that Dr. Sheppard did receive a fair trial to begin with. The original appeal was overturned but Sheppard was still allowed to remain free pending an appeal by his lawyers to the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling on whether or not to uphold Judge Weinman's original decision. This case was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court as Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966).



















Sam Sheppard being handcuffed and taken out of his home following the murder of his wife.


The prosecutor questions a witness during the first trial

Links To Sites on the Sam Sheppard Trial


F. Lee Bailey comes to the defense of Dr. Sam Sheppard