THE REAL FUGITIVE, PART I
I am frequently asked in interviews how I came up with the character of
Dr. Scott James. The good doctor is a combination of a lot of factors, but there is one aspect of him that is based on a true story, one that you may have heard about.
In 1954, a doctor named Sam Sheppard was accused of murdering his wife. What followed was a media circus of epic proportions, where the entire nation, it seemed, jumped to the conclusion that he had to be "guilty as hell."
This scenario is one that I have tried to recreate in the Dr. Scott James Series. My protagonist isn't accused of murdering his wife, he's accused of aiding and abetting terrorists. But he is automatically deemed guilty by his colleagues, friends, family, and the authorities, long before he's given his proper day in court. Scott James must save himself, because no one else will. He's an innocent man, and a decent one, but always under suspicion, always one step away from prison, or worse.
Which is where he parts company with Dr. Sam Sheppard. Sam Sheppard had F. Lee Bailey, an attorney who eventually defended him, a story we'll get to in a moment. But first, a little back story.
The trial was extremely fascinating. Sheppard claimed that he had been
sleeping on his couch when he heard his wife, Marilyn, screaming. He also said that he had encountered a man fleeing the scene. Sheppard said that he'd fought with the man, whom he could only describe as having "bushy hair." The fact that he'd grappled with this suspect and yet couldn't really describe him was a flaw in Sheppard's alibi that the Prosecution pounced on.
The Doctor's accusers jumped on a lot of other things, too. Forensics experts, for example, testified that Marilyn had been killed with something that was probably a surgical instrument, like a scalpel. That's not a promising development if you're a physician.
Sheppard wasn't defended by F. Lee Bailey, initially. The result of his first trial was that he was convicted, in 1956, of First Degree Murder, and sentenced to life.
Ten years passed. Dr. Sheppard, wasting away in prison, maintained his innocence throughout. In 1966, F. Lee Bailey entered the scene.
I saw in F.Lee Bailey a young and brilliant attorney who looked under every stone. Most Americans who followed the trial shared my opinion. He presented a big block of factual material, often reversing the conclusions reached by the Prosecution through the use of the same information.
Bailey compared the blood types of Sam Sheppard and his dead wife to those found at the scene and found that there was a third blood type, which he equated to the “real killer.” Bailey took the Prosecution's presentation of blood spatter on a wall, “whose size and shape could only have been placed by a powerful blow,” and reversed its significance when he showed the same spatter under Sam Sheppard's watch band. Bailey also cast doubt on the testimony of Esther Houk, a friend of Marilyn Sheppard. He claimed that she was the “irate wife of a husband who was having an affair with Marilyn Sheppard (Sam's wife).” In her testimony, she said that she lit her fireplace on the morning of the killing because of a chill in the air. But the actual temperature was sixty-nine degrees. Bailey claimed that she had started the fire as a means for burning her own bloody clothing. These points were but a part of the huge pool of circumstantial evidence which Bailey discredited.
At the end, Bailey's quote that the Prosecution was “hiding 10 pounds of hogwash in a 5 pound sack” influenced not only the jury but the trial of public opinion. He won over the huge audience of interested Americans who followed the trial.
I have often been asked if I am related to Sam Sheppard because I am an MD, like him, and of course because my name is so similar, "Shepard," with only one p. Maybe because of this, I was always more attuned to the trial than others. But so many other things have, throughout my life, attracted me to this case, and as I write about the trials of Scott James, I relive these memorable moments in history.
NEXT: The Sam Sheppard Case goes Hollywood