Son Of The 'Fugitive' Defends His Father

Two weeks ago, Host Scott Simon interviewed Bob Greene about his memoir Late Edition: A Love Story. During the conversation, Scott referred to Dr. Sam Sheppard — a man convicted of killing his pregnant wife in 1954 — as "the most famous convicted murderer in America." Dr. Sheppard's son, Sam Reese Sheppard, heard the interview and wrote a moving and pointed letter to Scott, which prompted him to invite him onto the show, to explain why Scott's comment upset him.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Two weeks ago, we interviewed Bob Greene about his memoir of being a copy kid and cub reporter in Columbus, Ohio. His book is called "Late Edition: A Love Story." He told the story of how he'd once been sent to a tavern to try to bring Dr. Sam Sheppard to his newspaper for an interview. Dr. Sheppard was convicted in 1954 for the murder of his pregnant wife. But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1966, saying that pre-trial publicity had made a fairer trial impossible.

In that conversation with Bob Greene, I referred to Sam Sheppard as the most famous convicted murderer in America. Dr. Sam Sheppard's son, Sam Reese Sheppard, was listening to our show. We received a pointed and moving personal letter from him this week. He joins us from KQED in San Francisco. Mr. Sheppard, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. SAM REESE SHEPPARD (Author): I'm glad to be here. Thank you.

SIMON: And let me give you a chance to correct me.

Mr. SHEPPARD: My father, Dr. Sam Sheppard, was an innocent man. It is technically an unsolved murder, and we are still to this day trying to solve the murder of my pregnant mother.

SIMON: First thing I want to do is apologize because your father technically certainly had been convicted of murder at one point. But I should have noted both the Supreme Court decision and acquittal at retrial. I'm sorry.

Mr. SHEPPARD: Thank you. Thank you very much.

SIMON: I also have to ask you about the wrongful imprisonment suit that you filed in Ohio in 1999.

Mr. SHEPPARD: Yes, we did file for wrongful incarceration. It was suits to get a Declaration of Innocence. We did receive a judge and a trial date. But the judge, against the law, threw it to a jury and thus perpetuated the lynch mob political atmosphere that reawakened that mood, essentially from 1954. And we lost our civil suit, essentially not being able to prove that he was an innocent man or have essentially the judge declare that he was. Immediately after that decision, the law was changed.

SIMON: Not that this in any way compares with the severity of what happened, but I mean information had come pouring out that your father had been carrying on affairs...

Mr. SHEPPARD: Oh, yes. My dad...

SIMON: He was not a sympathetic public character, public figure...

Mr. SHEPPARD: My dad was a womanizer in those '50s and that sort of thing. We've had several public figures - I can name a few - who have been womanizers. You know, a womanizer is not a killer.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. SHEPPARD: My dad was no killer. He was no angel, either. I mean he was a womanizer.

SIMON: But it may have contributed to...

Mr. SHEPPARD: Oh, it absolutely did. The only...

SIMON: And your mother was pregnant, which added to the...

Mr. SHEPPARD: Yes, my mom was pregnant. And the only lies, so to speak, that was attributed my dad was his saying that he had not had affairs and trying to protect a woman's reputation, so to speak, which is kind of old fashioned.

SIMON: One other bit of misinformation maybe we can clear up. "The Fugitive"…

Mr. SHEPPARD: Yes.

SIMON: ...that's not some retelling of your father's story.

Mr. SHEPPARD: It evidently didn't spring directly from the Sheppard case. But my point of view is "The Fugitive" never would have flown back in those days unless the real thing was happening in real life, which was my dad.

"The Fugitive" used to come on the air in the old Ohio State Penitentiary. Well, I don't know how high the tiers were in the cages that the prisoners were locked up on, but it would have come on TV. And there'd be this call through the tiers, hey, Doc. Your show is on. And my dad never looked at it.

SIMON: That's extraordinary when I think of your father in the Ohio State Penitentiary while "The Fugitive" is on the air in millions of homes across the country.

Mr. SHEPPARD: Yes. Yes.

SIMON: And, well, but he never saw it, you said.

Mr. SHEPPARD: No, he refused to look at it. I really don't think my dad would have survived unless I had been alive. I mean he truly loved my mother. They were best friends.

SIMON: Sam Reese Sheppard joining us from member station KQED in San Francisco, my apologies again. Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. SHEPPARD: I appreciate it. Very good to be with you.

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