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Sheppard Jury Selection Underway

February 7, 2000

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Jury selection started today for the civil trial aimed at deciding whether Dr. Sam Sheppard killed his wife in the sensationalized case that helped inspire the movie and TV series ``The Fugitive.″

The first group of 50 jurors entered Cuyahoga County Judge Ronald Suster’s courtroom late in the morning.

Each prospective juror faced a form requiring answers to about 80 questions. Eight people will ultimately be seated on the panel, along with four alternate jurors.

All of this week has been set aside for jury selection and the trial could take an additional two months to complete.

The lawsuit was filed by the doctor’s son, Sam Reese Sheppard, in an effort to clear his father’s name through a declaration of innocence. That could allow the son to collect damages from the state.

In a highly publicized trial, the elder Sheppard was convicted in 1954 of murdering his wife, Marilyn. That verdict was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark ruling on the unfair effect of pretrial publicity, and Sheppard was acquitted at a retrial in 1966. He died in 1970.

Arguments on motions took up all of last week.

On Friday, Suster ruled against one major plaintiffs’ motion, deciding that testimony from the 1954 trial was not tainted and may be read into the record for this trial.

Prosecutors defending the state said they have no choice but to read transcripts to the jury because the case is 46 years old and many original witnesses have died. Sheppard’s lawyers argued that the testimony was tainted because it had been publicized before witnesses appeared in court.

Attorneys for the Sheppard estate also failed in an attempt to bar testimony by Dr. Elizabeth Balraj, the Cuyahoga County coroner, arguing that she rubber-stamped the findings of other experts instead of preparing her own report.

The judge said Balraj would be given a chance to file a supplemental report. Her office has worked with outside experts to gather and evaluate evidence, especially since October, when Mrs. Sheppard’s body was exhumed.

The elder Sheppard always insisted that a ``bushy-haired intruder″ killed his wife in her upstairs bedroom while he slept downstairs. He said he heard his wife’s cries and ran to help her but was knocked unconscious by the killer, who fled from the family’s home on Lake Erie.

The Sheppard legal team has said the mostly likely killer of Mrs. Sheppard was Richard Eberling, the family’s window washer at the time. He died in prison in 1998 after being convicted of killing a woman for whom he worked as a caretaker.

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