In 1954, Sam Sheppard was accused of allegedly killing his wife, Marilyn. During this time, the media went absolutely wild. The way they obtained their stories was completely unlike any way they had gone about getting stories before.
They completely invaded Sheppard’s privacy to obtain “good” stories for their papers and television newscasts. Also, more stories were written about the case than any other event that had been covered in the past. Even the way stories were written was different than the usual style of writing used for that time period. Ethics were completely disregarded during the case. Because of this, Sheppard was released from prison, with the reason that the media had influenced the case so that the jury found him guilty based on the news stories.
This had never happened before. Due to the unethical practices displayed by the media, the field of journalism instituted practices, which limited the power of the press. Starting on the day of the murder, the media began to attack Sheppard on any occasion they could. Stories were obtained in unethical, and nearly unlawful ways. Even though they were permitted to do so by the courts, going into Sheppard’s house and looking through his belongings was not the most ethical practice.
Also, though the courts also allowed them to witness the testimony of Sheppard about his wife’s death, they really shouldn’t have agreed. Stories were written in an unscrupulous manner. The “trial before the trial” was a meeting between the coroner, Samuel Gerber, and Sheppard, in which Gerber fired questions at Sheppard in front of the entire community – without Sheppard’s lawyer present. The media was allowed to sit in on this hearing and wrote stories about Sheppard being unfairly given too much leeway as a murder suspect.
Finally, the amount of stories written about the trial and murder was higher than had been printed in Cleveland about a single murder. Cleveland newspapers printed stories almost every single day for the duration of the situation. Most of these were speculation only, however, or editorials that were run on the front page and believed to be actual articles. Because of the way these stories were run, the jury and most of Cleveland believed that Sheppard was, in fact, guilty. The stories written through the duration of the murder case were one of the main things that was detrimental to Sheppard’s case.
The jury’s view of Sheppard was adversely affected by the news stories such as the most famous one of all: “Somebody Is Getting Away With Murder”. They printed biased stories that the jury members were allowed to read, which gave them a negative view of Sheppard even before he testified. News articles run by local papers also distorted the evidence in the case. An important piece of information that was published dealt with the blood evidence. One of the detectives investigating the case was quoted by a newspaper stating that “scientific tests at the Sheppard home have definitely established that the killer washed off a trail of blood from the murder bedroom to the downstairs section”. This led the public to believe that Sheppard was lying during his testimony, and believe it, they did.
However, over ten years later, the Supreme Court ruled that Sheppard’s trial had been unfair due to the Fourteenth Amendment – that everyone shall have the right to a fair trial with an impartial jury. This, of course, was something that Sheppard had not gotten, due to the media. The court saw that, and believed it was true. So, because of the media’s influence over the jury before and during the trial, Sheppard was released from prison. Because of Sheppard’s release from prison due to an unfair trial caused mainly by the media, the press set up new boundaries to limit the damage they did to a suspected murderer or other criminal.
No longer would they print newspaper stories that did not have a neutral standpoint. The reporters leaned toward the “guilty” verdict, and they showed it in the stories. This would no longer occur. Never again would an accused person be labeled a criminal before the trial’s verdict.
The word “alleged” is now a .