1999: Sean Sellers

Add comment 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.

Sellers was just four months into his 17th year when he shot dead an Oklahoma City convenience store clerk in a haze of adolescent angst.

“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.

The U.S. at the time still allowed the execution of juvenile offenders, a practice that was barred by the Supreme Court only six years after Sellers died.

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.


(via)

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.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Oklahoma,USA

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1959: Leonard Shockley, the last juvenile executed?

Add comment April 10th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1959, Leonard Shockley was gassed in Maryland.

The appeals court that considered his case found it “perfectly clear that Leonard killed the victim in an attempt to perpetrate a robbery or a rape,” during a heist committed jointly with Leonard’s older brother.

On that basis, young Shockley achieved the distinction of being the second-last person ever put to death for a crime committed as a 16-year-old. For a very long while, it really looked like he might be the last, but Oklahoma’s 1999 execution of Sean Sellers usurped the claim.

While it makes little ethical difference, from the standpoint of attributing criminal culpability, whether a 16-year-old offender is executed promptly at age 16 or held for a lifetime in prison and executed in his eighties, Shockley may also be the last human put to death on American soil before he had attained his own majority. Shockley’s birthdate invariably reports as “1941 or 1942”,* and in the absence of the sort of primary research a blogger is naturally loath to conduct, we’re left with conflicting sources on the subject.

The Washington Post‘s headline the following day annonced, “Slayer, 18, Dies In Gas Chamber”. (Surmounting the text of the perfunctory Associated Press story it ran.)

Whereas the Baltimore Sun reported, “Youth, 17 Dies in Gas Chamber: Shockley Executed for Slaying of Shore Mother”. (Alas, no screenshot: it’s cited by Victor Streib, an anti-death penalty academic.)

So it’s not completely clear whether Shockley enjoys this particular claim to fame. Well, not enjoy it exactly. Of course not that. And poor Sarah Hearne didn’t enjoy being slashed to death; this is also understood. Let’s just say, a sad affair and a minor milestone, and leave it at that.

* The crime was in January 1958, 15 months before the execution. It’s simple enough to work out when Shockley’s birthday would have to fall for the various scenarios.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gassed,Maryland,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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