19. Sam Sheppard was convicted for murdering his wife, though later acquitted
In the early morning of July 4, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard was beaten to death in her bed in her Ohio home. Her husband, Dr. Sam Sheppard, reported hearing her screams and twice grappling with an intruder, once in the home and again outside. Both times the intruder, whom he described as “bushy-haired”, rendered him unconscious. After weeks of investigation marked with rampant media speculation, most of which claimed Dr. Sheppard murdered his wife, he was charged. One possible motive presented by the authorities was Sheppard’s having an extramarital affair. Newspaper headlines and radio and television reports assumed his guilt. Prior to the trial beginning in October, the judge, Edward J. Blythin, told New York journalist and celebrity Dorothy Kilgallen, “Well, he’s guilty as hell. There’s no question about it”. Convicted of second degree murder, Sheppard received a life sentence.
After years of unsuccessful appeals Sheppard’s attorney died, and F. Lee Bailey took over the case. Bailey succeeded in having the United States Supreme Court overturn the conviction, a decision in which they referred to the “carnival nature” of the trial. In a second trial for the murder, Bailey won an acquittal, vaulting him into national prominence. For the rest of his life the first verdict, for which he served ten years in prison, haunted Sheppard. Though other suspects and theories regarding the case have been proposed, none have definitively solved the case. Sheppard performed for a time as a professional wrestler (as “Killer” Sam Sheppard), remarried twice, and died in 1970 as a result of advanced alcoholism. He is still widely regarded as a murderer, in a case often presented in film and television.