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Sam Sheppard files given to CM Law

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason hands over Exhibits, photographs, recordings from Sheppard trials

By Eric Bonzar

Oct. 11, 2012

More than a half-century’s worth of documents, from one of the first sensational cases that attracted heightened media attention, were handed over to Cleveland State’s Cleveland-Marshall Law Library on Sept. 28.

Exhibits, photographs and recordings from Sam Sheppard’s 1954 murder trial, his 1966 retrial that overturned his earlier conviction, and his 2000 wrongful imprisonment trial filed by his estate were delivered by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason.

Kristina Niedringhaus, law library director, said the historical haul will remain under lock and key in the library’s special collections room until an orderly plan for digitizing and cataloging the items can be devised.

“We want to take a very systematic approach to this,” Niedringhaus said. “It’s a mass of materials, so we want to make the best choices of where and how the process begins to preserve them.”

She said once the items have been digitized and cataloged, the information will be available for anyone interested in the case, or looking to do general research.

Joe Mosbrook, director of strategic communications, added that the university also plans to create a website dedicated to the information, as well as a traveling exhibit.

Niedringhaus said the traveling exhibit will allow outside law schools, bar associations and organizations to highlight the collection and share it with others.

“The case seems to have captured people’s imagination,” said Niedringhaus. “There still seems to be a lot of interest in the case and what happened.”

In 1954, Sheppard was arrested for the murder of his wife Marilyn Sheppard, who was bludgeoned to death inside the bedroom of their Bay Village home on July 4.

After being tried and found guilty, Sheppard spent the next 10 years in jail until he was acquitted after a retrial in 1966.

Sheppard would die four years later.

In 2000, his son, Sam Reese Sheppard would file a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the state of Ohio on his father’s behalf. In 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to review a lower court’s decision that said Sheppard’s estate cannot sue the state, ending the case.

Niedringhaus said Sheppard’s case throughout the years, along with its documents, will provide professors and scholars with information that will educate them about the publicity that surrounds cases such as his and how cases often tend to get tried through the media.

“I think there is a variety of ways that these materials can be used,” Niedringhaus said. “I think there are lots of opportunities for these materials to become part of the curriculum, and how it is used will only be limited by the imagination of the faculty and students.”

Mason said in a press release that the prosecutor's office acquired all the evidence from the previous criminal trials, and that it was used by him during the wrongful imprisonment lawsuit, which he prosecuted.

"It was a rare opportunity to forever preserve an important piece of legal history and show how the advancements in forensic evidence play such an important role in our criminal justice system," he said. "I am very excited to entrust this collection to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.”