Sheppard v Maxwell, Warden
Citation 384 U.S. 333 (1966)
The petitioner, Dr. Samuel Sheppard sought habeas corpus relief in the federal courts after serving seven years of a life sentence for murder. Sheppard was charged with the murder of his wife, Marilyn who also was four months pregnant. Marilyn was murdered on July 4, 1954 in the couple’s Bay Village, Ohio home. Sheppard was the primary suspect from beginning of the case and was arrested for murder on July 30. His trail began on October 18 and he was convicted on to a life sentence on December 21, 1954.
During the entire time prior to the trail, the case was highly published in many forms of the media. The case attracted massive media coverage and bias information was leaked regarding charges in which the petitioner was not being tried. Pertinent information such as names and addresses of potential jurors were published thus allowing for more bias and contamination before the trail begun.
The jurors themselves were constantly exposed to the news media. Over three weeks prior to the trail, the media published the names and addresses of prospective jurors. As a result many of them received both letters and phone calls about the case.
Inside the courtroom, newsmen were allowed to take over majority of the small courtroom. Reporters were assigned seats by the court within the bar and in close proximity of the jury and counsel. This precluded privacy between the petitioner and his counsel.
The petitioner filed for habeas corpus relief in the federal courts. The question was whether Sheppard was deprived of a fair trail and his right to due process according to the Sixth Amendment. Was the petitioner denied a fair trail for the second-degree murder of his wife, of which he was convicted, because of the trail judge’s failure to protect Sheppard sufficiently from the massive, pervasive, and prejudicial publicity that attended his prosecution?
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