Published Saturday, April 1, 2000,
in the Akron Beacon Journal

Expert's opinion challenged
Former FBI agent suggests Sheppard murder `didn't appear to be very well planned.' Judge chooses to limit testimony

BY KEITH MCKNIGHT
Beacon Journal staff writer

CLEVELAND: An ex-FBI agent who said he hasn't been wrong yet in his analyses of crime scenes, was prepared to testify for the state yesterday that the long-debated 1954 bludgeoning death of Marilyn Sheppard was the result of a ``staged domestic homicide.''

But ready or not, Gregg O. McCrary -- like many of the state's witnesses in the Dr. Sam Sheppard wrongful imprisonment civil trial -- spent the bulk of the day being challenged by Sheppard attorney Terry Gilbert over whether he was enough of an expert to make such a determination.

Meanwhile, the jury cooled its heels in another room.

And by day's end, the panel had spent less than an hour in the courtroom and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Suster had limited McCrary's testimony, instructing the state to iron out with their witness what he may not tell the jury when his testimony resumes Monday.

McCrary is one of the contributing authors to the FBI's Criminal Classification Manual and is said to represent the crux of the state's case, which is expected to be concluded sometime next week.

With the jury out, Assistant County Prosecutor Steve Dever questioned McCrary, who said his examination of records and photos of the 46-year-old crime scene indicates to him that the murder ``didn't appear to be very well planned.''

But in the aftermath, he said, the killer ``spent a prolonged amount of time at the crime scene staging a burglary, staging a sexual assault and staging a drug related crime.''

According to McCrary drawers appeared to be ransacked, yet nothing of great value was taken; the victim's bedclothes exposed her genitals yet the clothes were unbuttoned, not ripped; and a medical bag was upended, yet nothing significant was determined to be missing.

Dr. Emanuel Tanay, an expert witness called by the plaintiff in February, testified that the extent of the bludgeoning excluded domestic violence as the cause.

Tanay said domestic homicides usually are the result of a burst of out-of-control rage, but it quickly subsides and does not go on and on as did the killer of Marilyn Sheppard.

Both sides in this case appear to agree with experts who say she was so severely beaten by repeated blows to the head and face that her upper jaw and facial bones had become detached from her skull.

According to Tanay, such a beating is the work of a sadistic sexual killer.

But McCrary was prepared to dismiss that notion yesterday, saying sadistic sexual killers tend to torture their victims for a far longer period of time -- sometimes days or weeks -- and thereafter hide the remains.

Suster, however, first ruled that McCrary could make no mention of ``staging'' in his findings.

Upon complaints by Dever that staging was essential to the state's case, Suster modified his ruling to say McCrary could ``talk about staging generally'' but not say the Sheppard murder had been staged.

``Don't reach a conclusion about domestic homicide,'' Suster said. ``Leave that to the jury.''

Dever also went to some lengths to show McCrary's analysis of the Sheppard case did not amount to profiling, which has been prohibited by Ohio courts as unfairly prejudicial evidence.

McCrary insisted that profiling (the practice of creating the probable makeup of a suspect) is an investigative tool designed to help identify an unknown criminal.

But Gilbert said McCrary's analysis of Sheppard's testimony amounts to the same thing, which clearly identifies Sheppard as the killer.

Sheppard was acquitted of the crime in 1966 after spending 10 years in prison for what the U.S. Supreme Court said was a wrongful conviction in 1954.

During a lull in the proceedings at the end of the day, Gilbert said he caught McCrary trying to exchange some sort of communication with jurors, and asked the judge to instruct him to stop it.

The judge did so, only to be asked by McCrary if it would be all right for him to look at the jurors when he was testifying before them. Suster assured him that it would.

The tenth week of the trial begins Monday.

Keith McKnight can be reached at 330-996-3734 or kmcknight@thebeaconjournal.com