Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Interview of Gregg McCrary

Theory-Driven Investigation

Richard Eberling
Richard Eberling
A dramatic moment arrived when the plaintiffs team claimed that they had DNA from blood from the crime scene that excluded Sam Sheppard as the donor but that could be Richard Eberlings.  They put their blood expert, Bart Epstein, on the stand.  After his presentation, the defending attorney pounced.  He pointed out that Marilyn had Type O blood, which Epstein acknowledged, and that Sam had Type A.  Then he asked about Eberlings blood group, but Epstein did not have an answer.  It was in fact Type A, which meant that Eberling could not have been the source for the Type O blood from which they claimed they had gotten a DNA profile that could be his.

Yet for all these twists, the media had missed the boat.  Throughout the plaintiffs presentation, McCrary had noticed cameras and on-air commentators from networks like Court TV, and yet once they had rested, media interest evaporated.

They stayed and made comments about the plaintiffs side of the case, McCrary recalls, and then left, except for one cameraman.  It seemed that everyone was interested in the so-called mystery man.  Sams wrongful conviction was a much more colorful story.  But when it was just another domestic homicide, that wasnt as interesting.

In the end, the jury decided for Ohio.  Sam Reese Sheppard lost the case.

To my mind, McCrary reflects, Gilberts team had made the fatal error of conducting a theory-driven rather than a fact-driven investigation.  In other words, they started with a conclusion and then looked for facts that might support that conclusion.  That doomed them from the beginning, as Gilbert and his experts had to ignore, filter, shape, bend, torture and cherry-pick various facts to create the illusion that their theory was valid.

And they werent the only ones. 

In published accounts that have come out since the third trial that argue on Sams behalf, McCrary points out, its my opinion that they have cherry-picked the facts that worked for them and left the rest out.  In Neffs book, The Wrong Man, for example, nowhere do you see a discussion of Sams testimony, and nowhere is that evidence overlaid on the physical evidence from the crime scene itself.  We did that, and found all the inconsistencies.  It reminds me of a quote I came across that nicely summarizes this theory-driven approach: Few things are more tragic than the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts.

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