County Prosecutor Bill Mason has designated the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Library, Cleveland State University, as a repository for all materials related to the Sam Sheppard trials. The collection includes documents, photographs, recordings and exhibits from the murder trials dating back to 1954.
The Sheppard case has been widely embraced by popular culture, but it also produced a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on fair trial rights. In 1954, Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of murdering his wife in their Bay Village home in the summer of that year. He was sentenced to life in prison. In a 1966 appeal, Sheppard v. Maxwell, the Supreme Court determined that Sheppard was denied due process and had an unfair trial, mainly due to the media circus that permeated the original trial and the failure of the presiding judge to sequester the jurors and shield them from media bias. In 1966, Sheppard was acquitted.
In 1996, the Estate of Samuel Sheppard filed a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit. On April 12, 2000, when the 12 week trial was completed, 76 witnesses had testified, more than 600 exhibits were presented, and 19 experts took the stand. The experts testified on subjects including forensic pathology, serology, blood spatter, odontology, head trauma, psychology, forensic photography, radiology, forensic anthropology, DNA, and population genetics.
“It was in preparation for the wrongful imprisonment lawsuit that we amassed all of the evidence from the prior two criminal trials. 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,” Prosecutor Mason said. “I am very excited to entrust this collection to Cleveland Marshall College of Law.”
“We are grateful to have been chosen to house the collection in its entirety,” said C|M|LAW Dean Craig M. Boise. “Because we are a public law school, the donation of Sheppard materials to C|M|LAW commits them to the public trust. We believe the materials should be kept together as a collection and made available free of charge to researchers and the general public.”
Once the collection is cataloged and digitized, it will be open to both scholarly researchers and members of the general public. In addition, the library plans to digitize the materials and make them accessible online.
“Cleveland has been the birthplace of several landmark criminal cases that have established important precedents in criminal law and procedure,” said Boise. “C|M|LAW has a reputation for having a strong trial law program, and housing the materials from the Sheppard trials at C|M|LAW is a fitting tribute both to our fine city and to a public law school with a history of producing excellent trial attorneys.”
The Law Library at C|M|LAW is attached to the law school at 1801 Euclid Avenue. The library serves as a government documents repository, and in conjunction with the Cleveland Memory Legal Landmarks project, facilitates the creation of digital exhibits of famous Cleveland cases, including court documents, articles, photographs, audio and video. The library plans to promote the Sheppard collection through programs and symposia and special exhibits.
“The Law Library is honored to be entrusted with these important documents and to have the opportunity to preserve them for future research. We are excited to begin the cataloging and digitization process so the materials can be made freely available for scholars and the general public,” said Kristina Niedringhaus, Director of the Law Library.