CLEVELAND - A convicted murderer who publicly denied he was responsible for the slaying of Dr. Sam Sheppard's wife claimed privately before his death that he was the killer, according to a fellow inmate.
However, the prosecutor said today she doesn't plan to use the new statements to reopen the investigation of the case that inspired the old TV series "The Fugitive," saying it's hard to say whether either inmate is believable.
Richard Eberling admitted he was the "bushy-haired intruder" who Sheppard maintained beat his pregnant wife to death in 1954, according to fellow inmate Robert Lee Parks, who talked to an assistant prosecutor and to a lawyer for Sheppard's son.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor David Zimmerman said today that Parks approached his office in March saying he heard Eberling confess to the slaying.
But Parks has said Eberling, who washed windows at the Sheppard home in suburban Bay Village, told two stories: that he killed Marilyn Sheppard on his own and that he was hired by the doctor to kill his wife for $1,500.
Sheppard served nearly 10 years in prison before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that reckless media coverage had violated Sheppard's rights. A second trial in 1966 ended in acquittal.
Sheppard died in 1970, and his son is trying to clear his name. Eberling died last month.
Zimmerman said Parks told him in an interview that Eberling admitted to a killing-for-hire scheme. He said Parks also provided written statements, which appear to be in Eberling's handwriting, that claim Sheppard commissioned Eberling to murder Mrs. Sheppard for $1,500.
However, in a videotaped interview last week with lawyer Terry Gilbert, Parks said the written confession was a hoax Eberling contrived to help Parks satisfy officials demanding a story that implicated Sheppard. Parks said his own transfer to another prison depended on getting the written confession.
Gilbert represents Sheppard's son, Sam Reese Sheppard, in his efforts to sue the state for wrongful imprisonment. The civil case is on hold until the Ohio Supreme Court rules on a prosecution challenge.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Stephanie Tubbs Jones said today she does not plan to reopen the investigation into Mrs. Sheppard's death on the basis of the alleged confessions. She believes it would be useless because the case is too old and too much evidence has been lost.
"It's difficult to assess the credibility of Parks - or of Eberling," she said. Yesterday, she said of Eberling: "He lied so much, you don't know what to believe."
Gilbert did not return calls seeking comment today.
The Plain Dealer and Akron Beacon Journal reported today that Parks said in the videotaped interview with Gilbert that Eberling "told me everything Sam told the police was correct" about the attack by a "bushy-haired intruder."
Eberling said he went to the Sheppards' home to burglarize it and rape Mrs. Sheppard, and that he wore a wig and makeup. He killed Mrs. Sheppard because she called for help while he raped her, Parks said.