What happened on this week June 30-July 6 in crime history: NBA star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault (July 1, 2003); old west gunslinger Clay Allison died in freak wagon accident (July 1, 1887); President James A. Garfield was shot (July 2, 1881); Martha Ann Johnson was arrested for killing her four children (July 3, 1989); murder of Marilyn Sheppard inspires television show (July 4, 1954); Black Sox trial begins (July 5, 1921); old west outlaw Bill Doolin escapes jail (July 5, 1896); mobster George “Bugs” Moran was arrested for bank robbery in Kentucky (July 6, 1946).
Highlighted crime of the week -On July 4, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard is beaten to death at her home in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Her husband, Dr. Sam Sheppard, claimed to have fallen asleep in the family's living room and awakened to find a man with bushy hair fleeing the scene. The authorities, who uncovered the fact that Dr. Sheppard had been having an affair, did not believe his story and charged him with killing his pregnant wife. Creating a national sensation, the media invaded the courtroom and printed daily stories premised on Sheppard's guilt. The jurors, who were not sequestered, found Sheppard guilty. Arguing that the circumstances of the trial had unfairly influenced the jury, Sheppard appealed to the Supreme Court and got his conviction overturned in 1966.
The Sheppard case brought to light the issue of bias within the court system. Jurors are now carefully screened to ensure that they have not already come to a predetermined conclusion about a case in which they are about to hear. In especially high-profile cases, jurors can be sequestered so that they are not exposed to outside media sources. However, most judges simply order jurors not to watch news reports about the case, and rely on them to honor the order. Sheppard's case provided the loose inspiration for the hit television show The Fugitive, in which the lead character, Richard Kimble, is falsely accused of killing his wife, escapes from prison, and pursues the one-armed man he claimed to have seen fleeing the murder scene. In 1998, DNA tests on physical evidence found at Sheppard's house revealed that there had indeed been another man at the murder scene. Sheppard's son, who had pursued the case long after his father's death in order to vindicate his reputation, sued the state for wrongful imprisonment in 2000, but lost.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of numerous books that include the award winning, Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949 (2012, Schiffer Publishing). The book was the WINNER of the 2012 International Book Awards and a FINALIST in the 2012 Indie Excellence Book Awards for True Crime.
Visit the author's website for more information: www.michaelthomasbarry.com. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: