Sheppard v. Maxwell

LOCATION: Southern District Court of Ohio Eastern Division

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 384 US 333 (1966)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1966
DECIDED: Jun 06, 1966

Facts of the case

After suffering a trial court conviction of second-degree murder for the bludgeoning death of his pregnant wife, Samuel Sheppard challenged the verdict as the product of an unfair trial. Sheppard, who maintained his innocence of the crime, alleged that the trial judge failed to protect him from the massive, widespread, and prejudicial publicity that attended his prosecution. On appeal from an Ohio district court ruling supporting his claim, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. When Sheppard appealed again, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.


What threshold must be crossed before a trial is said to be so prejudicial, due to context and publicity, as to interfere with a defendant's Fifth Amendment due process right to a fair trial?

Media for Sheppard v. Maxwell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1966 in Sheppard v. Maxwell

Earl Warren:

Samuel H. Sheppard, Petitioner versus E. L. Maxwell, Warden.

Mr. Bailey.

F. Lee Bailey:

For the petitioner Your Honor, Dr. Samuel H. Sheppard.

This case comes to this Court on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which on May 5th last reversed, two to one, a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, voiding the Ohio conviction of Dr. Samuel H. Sheppard which was recorded in 1954.

The district judge in his opinion noted five independent federal constitutional violations, each of which in his judgment, warranted granting the writ of habeas corpus and he determined that the five of them constituted this case as it was tried and carried through the state courts a mockery of justice.

On July 3rd, 1954, Dr. Samuel H. Sheppard was an osteopathic neurosurgeon living in the hamlet of Bay Village, Ohio a few miles west of Cleveland.

He was 30 years old as was his young wife Marilyn.

They have one child, age seven.

They lived on the shore of Lake Erie.

He was a busy and successful doctor as were his two older brothers, both surgeons and his father, also a physician.

The four of them run a clinic and they were active in the Bay View Hospital located in Bay Village.

The Sheppards entertained that night some friends named Ahern.

At some time during the evening while on television, a movie was being observed called, Strange Holiday, Dr. Sheppard fell asleep on the couch.

The Aherns left some time around midnight and bade Marilyn Sheppard goodnight at the door and she was never seen alive again.

Some time around six o’clock in the morning, a man leaving two doors distant from Dr. Sheppard, J. Spencer Houk the Mayor of Bay Village received a telephone call.

He recognized the voice of the petitioner, who said words in substance, “Spen, come quick.

I think they have killed Marilyn.”

Mayor Houk got up and get dressed, got his wife up and got her dressed, and they got in the family automobile and drove about 75 yards to the Sheppard home.

When they entered the home, they found Dr. Sheppard lying on the floor downstairs.

Mrs. Houk went upstairs and found Marilyn Sheppard lying in a pool of blood.

Authorities arrived, the Bay Village Police, the Cleveland Police, the County Sheriffs office, the County Prosecutors office and the County Coroner’s office.

An investigation was immediately commenced.

No witness, save of Dr. Sheppard has ever reported any facts from his own knowledge as having occurred between midnight and six o’clock on the fourth day of July 1954.

And what Dr. Sheppard had to say was this and still is, “That at some time during the night and he does not know the time, he awoke from a deep sleep by what he imagined to be screaming and thought his wife who was then pregnant was having convulsions, that he rushed up the stairs to the bedroom which was on the second floor.

And that the bedroom was dimly lit, and as he reached the top of the stairs or as he entered the bedroom, the point about which he was uncertain, he noticed a white shape or form, apparently a human form standing near the head of the bed.

As he entered the room and attempted to attack or grapple the form, he was struck from behind and rendered unconscious.

At some later point, he awoke on the floor of the bedroom and heard noises on the first floor.

He got up and run down the stairs.”

Earl Warren:

Is there any question about whether this form was a human being or not?

F. Lee Bailey:

I think the inference is that it was a human being.