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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Son discusses Sheppard case

By: Larisa Epatko
Potomac News
October 4, 1996
Sam Reese Sheppard speaks on campus
“We have to rethink what we do with problem Children in our society”
MANASSAS – Sam Reese Sheppard vividly remembers the night in 1954 when his mother was murdered.
    He was only 7, but recalls being woken by a relative, who scooped up some clothes and guided him through a crowd of reporters to an aunt and uncle’s house.
    Police had blocked his mother’s bedroom but his imagination soon took over, creating visions far worse than the actual crime scene, Sheppard said at Northern Virginia Community College, Manassas campus, on Thursday.
    And when his father was accused of the crime, Sheppard said he was terrified.
    “I began to have nightmares about going to the electric chair myself because I thought it was because of me,” he said.  “The trauma on a young child is very severe.”
    Sheppard’s visit was a part of the Journey of Hope, a two-week tour of Virginia intended to educate people about alternatives to the death penalty.
    He spoke to a crowd of about 30, mostly students and members of the Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the two groups that sponsored the fourth annual Journey of Hope.
    “The jury just didn’t have the stomach to go for the kill” and sentenced his father, Dr. Sam Sheppard, to life imprisonment, Sam Reese Sheppard said.
    “That [sentence] saved my life,” he told the audience.  If his father had been sentenced to death, Sheppard said he would have followed soon after through alcohol and drug abuse.
    Ten years later, with a new legal team, Sheppard’s father was retried and released on the basis that the media hysteria surrounding the trial tainted the jury’s decision.
    Sheppard became an outspoken opponent of the death penalty in 1989, about 25 years after his father’s release.
    “The media only shows the two ends of the spectrum, the victim and the offender,” and neglects the families of both, Sheppard said before his talk.
    “We have to rethink what we do with problem children in our society,” to prevent crimes, he said.
    Polls show that most Americans prefer a “swift, hard sentence that means what it says” over the death penalty, Sheppard said.  “It shows to me that Americans have some decency.  We’re not as vindictive as we seem.”