February 4th, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1999, Sean Sellers became the last person put to death in the U.S. for a crime committed at the age of 16.
“When I was that person, that murderer, I felt superior,” he later wrote in a confession. “I looked down on people with the secret knowledge that I had killed and was capable of killing them too. When I was not that person I was just a confused teenager, going to school, working, learning to drive, still full of anger, and counting the days when I’d be 18 so I could move OUT of that house.”
Six months later, he moved OUT for good by killing his mother and stepfather as they slept. This killing did not stay secret.
But on trial for having avowedly killed as “an offering to Satan” during the height of the 1980s’ bizarre devil-worship panic, his age barely figured at all. A cash-strapped public defender tried to argue that he was possessed; later, a defense psychiatrist claimed that Sellers suffered from multiple personality disorder. It’s safe to say the young man wasn’t right in the head at some level, but this sort of thing is juridical grasping at straws.
Sellers later converted to Christianity, but this conversion wouldn’t help him any more than it had helped Karla Faye Tucker the year before. In Sellers’ case, quite a lot of people thought it was all more or less a scam — the manipulative killer’s ploy to avoid the needle.
One footnote to the much-hyped Satanism angle was the teenage Sellers’ interest in Dungeons & Dragons. (Just him and a few million other people.)
Once mainstream enough to have its own cartoon, the popular role-playing game came under hysterical fundamentalist Christian attack during the Reagan years as Lucifer’s very own sport, the gateway drug to erosion of family values and situational ethics.
A guy like Sean Sellers magic missile-ing a beholder one day and then wasting his parents the next — that was pretty much the Platonic ideal of the anti-D&D campaign. People magazine said the hobby “fueled his darkening fantasies”. (For his part, Sellers disputed the connection.)
Although this sort of thing looks pretty laughable, there are still some authorities who fail their saving throw against dumb when it comes to the infernal pastime.
Haven’t they seen the after-school special?
As an aside, this “rant” (author’s word) from a man whose ex-wife became involved in the Sellers clemency campaign is a pretty interesting snapshot of the prisoner himself, and of the relationships in close proximity to him.
Also on this date
- 1653: Jasper Hanebuth, robber and murderer
- 1940: Nikolai Yezhov, terror namesake
- 1940: Robert Indrikovich Eikhe, "believing in the truth of Party policy as I have believed in it during my whole life"
- 1529: Ludwig Haetzer, Anabaptist
- 1703: 47 Ronin forced to commit seppuku
- 1738: Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, "Jud Süß"