Sean Sellers

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Sean Sellers
Born (1969-05-18)May 18, 1969
Died February 5, 1999(1999-02-05) (aged 29)
Oklahoma
Criminal penalty
Death by lethal injection
Criminal status
Executed
Conviction(s) Murder

Sean Richard Sellers (May 18, 1969 – February 5, 1999) was an American murderer, one of 22 persons in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 to be executed for a crime committed while under the age of 18.[1] He was also the only person during this period to be executed for a crime committed under the age of 17.[1][2] His case drew worldwide attention due to his age as well as his jailhouse conversion to Christianity and his claim that demonic possession made him innocent of his crimes.

Crimes[edit]

On March 5, 1986, Sellers killed his mother, Vonda Bellofatto, and his stepfather, Lee Bellofatto, while they were asleep in the bedroom of their Oklahoma City home. Sellers tried to disguise his guilt by arranging the crime scene to look as if an intruder had committed the killings.[3]

Avowal of Satanism at trial[edit]

At his trial, Sellers claimed he was a practicing Satanist at the time of the murders and that demonic possession (by the demon "Ezurate"[4]) caused him to murder his victims. In later documents, he claimed to have read The Satanic Bible by Anton Lavey "hundreds of times" between the ages of 15 and 16, when the crimes were committed,[5] and in a "Confession" letter written from prison, he reflected on this period of his life: "I got very involved in Satanism. I truly thought it was an honest way to live, and the rituals of it would enable me to control my life." [6] His attorneys also argued Sellers was addicted to the game "Dungeons & Dragons", although Sellers would later write that the game had no part in his crimes and that "using my past as a common example of the effects of the game is either irrational or fanatical."[7]

The jury refused to consider either claim, and Sellers was found guilty of multiple homicides and sentenced to death in 1986.[3][8] At the time, Oklahoma law did not give juries the option of giving a life sentence without the possibility of parole (that choice became available in 1987). One juror later said that the jury felt Sellers would be paroled in 7 to 14 years, and this prison term was not lengthy enough. So the jury opted for the death penalty.[9] Other jurors denied this was part of the deliberations.[10]

Religious conversion to Christianity[edit]

Sellers became a Christian while in prison. His friends started a website [3] on his behalf, and he campaigned for clemency based on his religious conversion, age and involvement in Satanism. While on death row, Sellers made numerous appearances in the mass media, appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show and on a notorious segment of Geraldo about Satanism.[11][12] He also appeared in documentaries about Satanism and serial killers for 48 Hours, MSNBC and the A&E Network. Sellers married in prison on February 14, 1995, but the marriage was annulled in 1997.[10]

Sellers' step-siblings refused to believe that his conversion to Christianity was a sincere one.[13] Of his many surviving family members, only his step-grandfather believed his conversion to be sincere. Prison officials, except for the prison chaplain, also refused to believe he had converted.[14]

Appeals and execution[edit]

During his 1999 appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sellers contended he was suffering from a multiple personality disorder. The appellate court ruled that there was "uncontroverted evidence" of Sellers's religious conversion and that he may indeed suffer from multiple personality disorder. The panel of judges concluded that while Sellers might have been insane at the time of his crimes, the claim was made too late to be raised on appeal. Psychiatric experts scoffed at Seller's claim, arguing that any true mental illness would have been diagnosed soon after Sellers' arrest and not seven years later.[15] Prison officials also cast doubt on Sellers' mental illness by saying they saw Sellers rehearsing the evidence of mental illness and receiving coaching from his attorneys.[15] Sellers made the same insanity claim to his clemency board, but the board refused to consider the issue. The board appeared to be swayed by prison officials' statements, the lengthy time delay in diagnosing the illness, and statements by Sellers' accomplice that he had seen no evidence of multiple personality. "The only thing that worried him was getting caught", Richard Howard wrote.[16]

Sellers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court declined his appeal.[8][10]

Two days before his execution, Sellers filed two more appeals. The first appeal, made in federal district court, accused the state Pardon and Parole Board of violating his civil rights. Sellers argued the pardon board's decisions were not impartial and were, instead, capricious. The appeal was denied, the issue having been considered and rejected by state courts numerous times (and recently as well). A second appeal, filed with the state Court of Criminal Appeals, claimed the state appellate court made a mistake by ruling Sellers had waived his insanity claim at trial. The state appellate court admitted it used the wrong legal justification in deciding Sellers' waiver of mental illness, but nevertheless rejected Sellers' appeal after reconsidering the case on the merits raised by Sellers' defense team.[17]

Sellers' imminent execution brought condemnation from a wide variety of sources, including the European Union, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the American Bar Association and Bianca Jagger. Nearly all raised issues about his age at the time of the crimes, and many argued that his religious work from prison outweighed the state's need to execute him.[10]

Sellers was executed by lethal injection at 12:17 a.m. on February 4, 1999.[10] He spoke to his step-siblings, saying, "All the people who are hating me right now and are here waiting to see me die, when you wake up in the morning, you aren't going to feel any different." Sellers did not mention his mother or apologize for what he had done. His statement outraged his step-siblings. Noelle Terry, his stepsister, later said, "He basically addressed the fact that we would still feel the same. It is very presumptuous that he would know how we would still feel."[11] His last words were a modern Christian music song: "Set my spirit free that I might praise Thee. Set my spirit free that I might worship Thee."[10]

Aftermath[edit]

Sellers was the first and remains the only person executed in the U.S. for a crime committed under the age of 17 since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.[10][13] The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roper v. Simmons, 542 U.S. 551 (2005) later decided it was unconstitutional to execute an individual for a crime committed under the age of 18.[11][18]

While in prison, Sellers authored a book of love stories and poems titled Shuladore. The book was self-published, and sold via his Web site. Under Oklahoma law, a defendant cannot "receive any proceeds or profits from any source" as a direct or indirect result of his crime. An Oklahoma grand jury investigated whether Sellers or his friends received profits from the sale of the book, but no indictment was forthcoming.[19] A Christian book publisher issued Sellers' autobiography, Web of Darkness, in 1999 shortly before his death.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Execution of Juveniles in the U.S. and other Countries
  2. ^ The last person executed in the U.S. for a crime committed while under the age of 18 was Scott Allen Hain in 2003 for a crime committed when he was 17. Coppernoll, "Supreme Court: Penaltydged Cruel and Unusual", The Daily Oklahoman, March 2, 2005.
  3. ^ a b Dawkins and Higgins, Devil Child, 1989.
  4. ^ Stackpole, Michael A. "The Pulling Report". Retrieved 19 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Sellers, "Letter to Satanists" [1] accessed December 13, 2008
  6. ^ Sellers, "The Confession of My Crimes," [2] accessed December 13, 2008
  7. ^ Stackpole, Michael A. "The Pulling Report." Appendix 1. accessed March 06, 2010
  8. ^ a b Greiner, "Sellers Implores Appeals Court To Stay Execution", The Daily Oklahoman, January 30, 1999.
  9. ^ Clay, "Ex-Juror Fails to Sway Board on Clemency Bid", The Daily Oklahoman, January 28, 1999.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Clay and Thornton, "Sellers Executed For Murders",2 The Daily Oklahoman, February 4, 1999.
  11. ^ a b c "Sean Sellers Executed For Murders as a Teen", Ponca City News, February 4, 1999.
  12. ^ Trostle and Green, "The Devil Made Me Do It: Adolescent Attraction to Satanism", in Society: An Alaskan Perspective, 1996.
  13. ^ a b Thornton, "Facing Death, Inmate Trying to Raise Doubt", The Daily Oklahoman, January 24, 1999.
  14. ^ Clay, "Sellers Hellbound, Family Says", The Daily Oklahoman, February 5, 1999.
  15. ^ a b Thornton, "Condemned Killer's Mental Diagnosis Draws Skeptics", The Daily Oklahoman, January 27, 1999.
  16. ^ Quoted in Thornton, "Board Denies Sellers' Plea For Clemency", The Daily Oklahoman, January 28, 1999. See also Thornton, "Prison Staffers Brand Sellers 'Manipulator'", The Daily Oklahoman, February 3, 1999.
  17. ^ Thornton and Greiner, "Condemned Killer Tries Last-Ditch Appeal", The Daily Oklahoman, February 2, 1999; Parker, "U.S. Judge Denies Bid By Sellers", The Daily Oklahoman, February 4, 1999.
  18. ^ Coppernoll, "Supreme Court: Penalty Judged Cruel and Unusual", The Daily Oklahoman, March 2, 2005.
  19. ^ Ross, "Proceeds From Killer's Book Investigated", The Daily Oklahoman, May 19, 2000.

References[edit]

  • Clay, Nolan. "Ex-Juror Fails to Sway Board on Clemency Bid". The Daily Oklahoman. January 28, 1999.
  • Clay, Nolan. "Sellers Hellbound, Family Says". The Daily Oklahoman. February 5, 1999.
  • Clay, Nolan and Thornton, Anthony. "Sellers Executed For 3 Murders". The Daily Oklahoman. February 4, 1999.
  • Coppernoll, Carrie. "Supreme Court: Penalty Judged Cruel and Unusual". The Daily Oklahoman. March 2, 2005.
  • Dawkins, Vickie L. and Higgins, Nina Downey. Devil Child. Paperback ed. New York: St. Martins Press, 1989. ISBN 0-312-91533-0.
  • Greiner, John. "Sellers Implores Appeals Court To Stay Execution". The Daily Oklahoman. January 30, 1999.
  • Parker, John. "U.S. Judge Denies Bid By Sellers". The Daily Oklahoman. February 4, 1999.
  • Ross Jr., Bobby. "Proceeds From Killer's Book Investigated". The Daily Oklahoman. May 19, 2000.
  • "Sean Sellers Executed For Murders as a Teen". Ponca City News. February 4, 1999.
  • Sellers, Sean. Web of Darkness. 2nd ed. Tulsa, Okla.: Victory House Publishers, 1990. ISBN 0-932081-26-6.
  • Stackpole, Michael A. "The Pulling Report." [4]
  • Thornton, Anthony. "Board Denies Sellers' Plea For Clemency". The Daily Oklahoman. January 28, 1999.
  • Thornton, Anthony. "Condemned Killer's Mental Diagnosis Draws Skeptics". The Daily Oklahoman. January 27, 1999.
  • Thornton, Anthony. "Facing Death, Inmate Trying to Raise Doubt". The Daily Oklahoman. January 24, 1999.
  • Thornton, Anthony. "Prison Staffers Brand Sellers 'Manipulator'". The Daily Oklahoman. February 3, 1999.
  • Thornton, Anthony and Greiner, John. "Condemned Killer Tries Last-Ditch Appeal". The Daily Oklahoman. February 2, 1999.
  • Trostle, Lawrence C. and Green, Melissa S. "The Devil Made Me Do It: Adolescent Attraction to Satanism". In Society: An Alaskan Perspective. Rev. ed. Sharon Araji, ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-8403-9172-2.