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Sean Richard SELLERS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (16) - Parricide - Satanist
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: September 7, 1985 / March 4, 1986
Date of arrest: March 6, 1986
Date of birth: May 18, 1969
Victims profile: Robert Bower (convenience store clerk) / Vonda Bellofatto (his mother) and Leo Bellofatto (his stepfather)
Method of murder: Shooting (handgun)
Location: Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma on February 4, 1999
 
 
 
 
 
 

photo gallery

 
 
 
 
 
 

Summary:

On Sept. 8, 1985, Sellers was 16 when he shot and killed Robert Bower, a convenience store clerk in Oklahoma City.

According to the testimony of Sellers' best friend, Richard Howard, who was with him at the time of the murder, Sellers said that he killed Robert Bower because he "wanted to see what it feels like to kill somebody."

On March 5, 1986, Sellers shot and killed his mother, Vonda Bellofatto, and stepfather, Lee Bellofatto, while they slept in their Oklahoma City home.

Howard testified that just after the murders, Sellers had come to his house and told him that he had killed his parents.

Howard was also initially charged with first degree murder, but the state dismissed the charge and recommended that he be given a five-year suspended sentence in exchange for testimony against his friend. By his own admission, Sellers committed the murders as a practicing satanist.

Sellers was the 13th execution of murderers who were under 18 years old at the time of the murder, and the first in 40 years for one who murdered at the age of 16.

At the time of his trial, his defense argued Sellers was addicted to the game "Dungeons and Dragons" and had no control over his actions. At the time of his execution, Sellers contended he was the victim of a multiple personality disorder.

 
 

Sean Richard Sellers (May 18, 1969 Ė February 5, 1999) was an American murderer and 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.

He was also the only person during this period to be executed for a crime committed under the age of 17. 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 and trial

On September 8, 1985, 16-year-old Sellers and his then-best friend, Richard Howard, killed Robert Bower, a convenience store clerk in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sellers later admitted on his Web site that he killed Bower because the man had refused to sell him beer and because he wanted to see "what it felt like". He surprised the Circle K convenience store clerk while he was drinking coffee, then pursued the wounded man across the store and shot him again (killing him).

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.

At his trial, Sellers claimed he was a practicing Satanist at the time of the murders and that demonic possession made him murder his victims. His attorneys also argued Sellers was addicted to the game "Dungeons & Dragons". The jury refused to believe either claim, and he was sentenced to death in 1986.

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. Other jurors denied this was part of the deliberations.

Religious conversion

Sellers became a Christian while in prison. His friends started a Web site 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.

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.

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

Appeals and execution

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, but they ruled 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. 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.

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.

Sellers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court declined his appeal.

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 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.

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.

Sellers was executed by lethal injection at 12:17 a.m. on February 5, 1999. 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." 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."

Aftermath

Sellers was the first and remains the only person executed for a crime committed under the age of 17 since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. He was also the first person executed by the state of Oklahoma since 1966. 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.

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. A Christian book publisher issued Sellers' autobiography, Web of Darkness, in 1999 shortly before his death.

 
 

Death Penalty Institute of Oklahoma

Sean Sellers - Executed February 4, 1999

Sean Sellers, 29, was executed shortly after midnight on February 4. Sellers was sentenced to death for the March 5, 1986, murder of his mother and step-father, Vonda and Paul Bellafatto, as well as the September 8, 1985, shooting death of Robert Paul Bower.

Sellers was 16 at the time of the crimes. His execution marks the first time in 40 years that the United States has executed someone for crimes committed below the age of 17. The United States has executed a total of 13 juvenile offenders since reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976, and 10 of those executions have occurred during the 1990s.

Only four other countries are known to have executed juvenile offenders during this decade. They are: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The US has executed more juvenile offenders than the other four countries combined. (For further information, see The Juvenile Death Penalty Today: Death Sentences and Executions for Juvenile Crimes, January 1973 - June 1999, by Victor L. Streib.)

Sellers' public defender was provided with only $750 to spend on any expert witnesses' fees, as well as their travel costs, expenses and lodging. During the appeals process, it was discovered that Sellers suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder or MPD (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder) at the time of the murders. The state of Oklahoma has a legal procedure that calls for post-trial consideration of newly discovered evidence under certain standards. According to Sellers' attorney, Steve Presson, Sellers' case overwhelmingly met those standards. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) refused to consider the evidence.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was shocked at OCCA's refusal, and wrote that OCCA made several errors in Sellers' case. However, due to the limited nature of federal habeas corpus relief, the Tenth Circuit Court would not intervene. The Tenth Circuit Court did issue what amounted to an invitation for executive clemency and for the state courts to reconsider Sellers' case in light of the MPD and the mistakes the state courts made. Clemency was denied on January 27 On January 27, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 5-0 to deny clemency to Sean Sellers. The hearing was held in the chapel of the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center (JBCC) in McAlester, Oklahoma.

Dianna Craun, one of the jurors who sentenced Sellers to death, spoke on his behalf at the clemency hearing. She said that the jury was given two choices of sentencing: a life sentence (with the possibility of parole) or the death penalty. (Oklahoma now has a third alternative - life without parole.) Craun and the other jurors thought that a life sentence would mean that Sean would serve 7-15 years in prison, and that this sentence was too lenient for the murders.

She stated that since Oklahoma had not executed anyone for 20 years at the time of the trial, the jurors did not honestly expect that Sean would ever be executed. They thought that the only way to ensure a long prison sentence for him was the choose the death penalty. If clemency had been granted, Sellers' sentence would have been converted to life without the possibility of parole.

Craun also stated that if the jury had been aware of Sean's mental illness, it would have changed the sentence he was given. "It is very obvious that he's found God, and God has changed his life," she told the parole board. "I was touched...and I truly don't want him executed." As soon as the testimony in the clemency hearing was over and Sellers' was taken from the chapel, all five Board members voted to deny clemency.

During Sellers' incarceration, he is reported to have worked extremely hard to get a Christian message out to other youths. Based on his experiences, he warned them of the dangers of experimenting with the occult and rebellious behavior. Friends of Sean Sellers have created a web site (www.seansellers.com) which contain some of his writings.

Recommended Reading:

By Reason of Insanity: Death Row and the Mentally Ill (article)
Multiple Personality Disorder (aka Dissociative Identity Disorder) Fact Sheet
The Family Inside: Working With the Multiple (book)
Executing the Mentally Ill: The Criminal Justice System and the Case of Alvin Ford (book)

Related Sites:

Friends of Sean Sellers
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Mental Health Net
National Institute of Mental Health

 
 

ProDeathPenalty.com

On Sept. 8, 1985, Sean Richard Sellers was 16 when he shot and killed Robert Bower, a store clerk at a convenience store in Oklahoma City. On March 5, 1986, Sellers shot and killed his mother, Vonda Bellofatto, and stepfather, Lee Bellofatto, while they slept in their Oklahoma City home. They were killed 6 months after Mr. Sellers shot and killed a convenience store clerk "just to see what it feels like to to kill someone," according to testimony of a friend.

At the time of his trial, his defense argued Mr. Sellers was addicted to the game "Dungeons and Dragons" and had no control over his actions. Mr. Sellers now contends he is the victim of a multiple personality disorder.

 
 

Amnesty International

In McAlester, former Satan worshipper Sean Sellers was executed, becoming the 1st U.S. murderer put to death in 40 years for crimes committed at age 16. Sellers, 29, was pronounced dead at 12:17 a.m. after being injected in both arms with poisons designed to put him to sleep, stop his breathing then stop his heart.

Outside, some 100 death-penalty opponents held lit candles and read scriptures. Some came for the 1st time, impressed that Sellers had preached Christianity from prison or upset that a murderer so young should die.

Sellers spent his final day in a holding cell next to the room where he was to die by lethal injection. He ate his last meal and spent most of the day visiting with about 10 friends he had met since entering prison in 1986. Sellers died for killing an Oklahoma City convenience store clerk in September 1985 and his own mother and stepfather 6 months later. His last appeal, to the U.S. Supreme Court, was turned down about 7 p.m. Wednesday.

"Sean Sellers' case is an aberration because Sean Sellers is an aberration. He committed multiple murders, the first one out of some sort of curiosity," Oklahloma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said. The attorney general complained the world press does not appreciate that hundreds of juvenile killers in Oklahoma never faced the death penalty and many of their cases never left juvenile court. The execution drew international media interest. TV reporters from England, France and Germany were at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Sellers has become a cause celebre in recent weeks, with Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the American Bar Association and an ex-wife of rock star Mick Jagger among those seeking clemency for him.

Most cited two main reasons for opposition: Sellers' age at the time of the killings and a diagnosis that Sellers suffered from multiple personality disorder. The diagnosis, by a Texas psychiatrist working on Sellers' behalf, came almost 6 years after Sellers went to prison, and prosecutors were never required to challenge it in court. Sellers' lead attorney, Steve Presson, argued the diagnosis mandated a sentence commutation. He called it "a horrific legal error" that appeals courts said they couldn't consider the diagnosis because the issue was raised too late.

At last week's clemency hearing, Presson presented a litany of letters from people who said Sellers' ministry had touched their lives. Presson called him "one of the finest people I have ever known." However, prison officials who have monitored Sellers since his incarceration had a different opinion of him. Two former wardens and a former death row unit manager described him as a manipulator who was on his best behavior when visitors from the Christian community were around.

Sellers' cause had been helped by an Internet site created on his behalf. His Web page included a confession of his murders and lengthy journal entries he had kept since November. In his confession, Sellers said he laughed after shooting Robert Bower, a Circle K convenience store clerk, giggling "like it was a fantastic prank since he'd had no clue what we'd come there for."

A friend said Sellers admitted he wanted "to see what it felt like." Bower, 35, was shot in the store on Sept. 8, 1985. Sellers wasn't a suspect in that death until after he killed his parents on March 5, 1986, in their northwest Oklahoma City home. Dressed only in black underwear, he crept into their bedroom as they slept and shot each in the head. He 1st shot Paul Lee Bellofatto, 43, and then Vonda Bellofatto, 32. He shot his mother again as she rose up. He later said he was angry at his mother because of her interference in his relationship with his girlfriend, a high school dropout. He said he had performed an occult ritual beforehand and, "There was nothing but cold hatred in me."

The last inmate executed for a murder committed at age 16 was Leonard Shockley, who died in Maryland on April 10, 1959. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1988 - ruling in an Oklahoma case - declared unconstitutional putting to death anyone younger. Attorney General Edmondson was asked whether Sellers' death would spark more debate on how young is too young for a murderer to be sentenced to death. Edmondson said he hopes the debate on capital punishment never ends, because "it is such a serious matter." "However, that is not our role here tonight. Our role here tonight is to see that the laws of Oklahoma are carried out," he said.

Among those seeking clemency for Sellers was Tutu. In a letter to Gov. Frank Keating, Tutu wrote that the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that "neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age." In a written response Tuesday, Keating said he couldn't commute a death sentence without a recommendation from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. The board denied clemency last week. "Myself and the majority of Oklahoma citizens support the death penalty as it is applied in Oklahoma courts," Keating wrote. "The law is applied fairly and equally in all cases."

As a sophomore at Putnam City North High School, Sellers drank his own blood at satanic rituals, took a satanic bible to classes and talked of demons flying and influencing him. In his own blood, he wrote, "I renounce God. I renounce Christ. I will serve only Satan. To my enemies, death." He said he had become a Christian even before his 1986 trial.

He later began a religious ministry from prison even though his critics considered the change an act. "It's not some title I put upon myself, or display as a label on my shirt. It is the heart of WHO I AM and ALL I WANT TO BE. Christian. Christlike," he wrote in his Internet journal. "I dream of heaven." Bill Mason, a minister who has prayed with Sellers and was in McAlester to protest the execution, said Sellers was being honest. "He wants to make up for what he's done," said Mason, who wore a picture of a young Sellers with the slogan, "Stop Killing Kids."

Sellers was not eligible to be given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. It wasn't allowed in Oklahoma law until 1987. One juror, Dianna Craun, said jurors chose death because they feared Sellers would be paroled in 7 to 15 years if given a life sentence. She also said jurors thought his execution likely would never take place because there had been none in Oklahoma in 20 years. However, jury foreman Harold D. Niles, said, "I don't recall that being an issue. No, I don't recall that conversation."

Sellers married in prison - on Valentine's Day 1995 - but that was annulled two years later. Seven relatives of Paul Bellofatto were to watch the execution. Seven witnesses were to be present for Sellers, including two spiritual advisers. Among those who turned down a chance to watch were Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy and retired Oklahoma County District Judge Charles Owens. Macy said, "I've carried out my responsibilities in the case. My duty was to prosecute the case, get the conviction and get the death penalty." Owens said, "I just refereed it, and I trust I gave him a fair trial.... I don't have any interest in watching him die."

He wrote of watching the movie "Dead Man Walking" 3 weeks ago. Sellers said he felt little compassion for the main male character, who "repents halfheartedly 20 minutes before his execution, more out of fear than sorrow." Sellers said Oklahoma's death row is filled with such people, who "give nothing and stand for nothing. They don't think or care about what they did." "It's not good enough to repent the day you die," he wrote.

(Sources: Daily Oklahoman & Rick Halperin)

 
 

FreeMedia.org

Stuck in a Nightmare: The Sean Sellers Story (Free Loan Video for Correctional Institutions)

Sean Sellers was a professed Satanist who at the age of 16 killed a convenience-store clerk and his own parents. At the age of 17, he sat in a prison cell in Oklahoma, condemned to death and writing these plaintive words: "I never knew what it was to live until someone told me I had to die." This powerful documentary will provide your viewers with food for thought on the snares of the occult. "Satan doesn't play games," Sean tells us. "People start out with Dungeons and Dragons, tarot cards and ouija boards. There are powers working around those things that people just don't understand." (Sellers was recently executed for his crimes).

 
 

ExposingSatanism.org

It was time to prove our allegiance to Satan. We began breaking the Ten Commandments. Only one remained, ďThou shall not murder.Ē We talked about things such as waiting at a stop sign in the middle of no where and blowing away the first person who was fool enough to obey the law. We talked about torture for a friendís ex-girl≠friend. We would tie her down, slice her breasts, cut her throat, but only after we would rape her for a few days. It was after a lust ritual with my second priest that Satan took over our actions.

In a game-like surreal euphoria, we drove to a convenience store where a man worked who had insulted my friendís girlfriend and refused to sell him beer. In my hand I held a cold steel killing tool a .357 magnum loaded with hollow points. After much conversation with the man who thought we were friends, my friend distracted him and I raised the gun from beneath the counter, pointed it at his head, and squeezed the trigger. It missed. I fired again.

My friend cut him off from getting away. The second shot had only injured him. I caught him. His terror-stricken eyes searched mine for mercy behind the smoking barrel. I squeezed the trigger and he collapsed, knocked back from the impactó dead. Blood covered The rear wall and ran onto the floor. And two teenagers walked out, taking no money, no merchandise. Only the life of an innocent man for Satan. (Sellers statement regarding the 1985 murder of Robert Bower, a convenience store clerk in Oklahoma City)

My life stunk. I was angry with my parents. I continually thought about suicide. I just wanted out. I sat there in my pickup wishing I had either the guts to blow my brains out, or for a way to find a new world and leave everything behind. I had been up for three days. I was out of speed. Tonight I would get some sleep. I drove home, did some homework, performed a ritual, and slept.

My next clear memory is a jail cell two days later. I had taken my fatherís .44 revolver and shot both my parents in the head as they slept. In a year, the memories of that night would haunt me. I had stood in front of my mothers convulsing body watching blood pour from a hole in her face, and laughed a hideous giggle. I had felt relieved, as if the worldís oppression had been lifted from my shoulders. But for now, all knew was that my life was destroyed. I had given Satan everything, and now I sat in a jail cell without a family. I no longer wanted to be a Satanist. (Sellers statement regarding the 1986 murders of his mother, Vonda Bellofatto, and stepfather, Lee Bellofatto, while they slept.)

 
 

WebActive.com

If the U.S. Supreme Court does not intervene on his behalf in the next two days, Sean Sellers will become the first person in 40 years to be executed in the United States for a crime committed when he was 16 years old. Sellers, who is now 29 years old, has been on death row since 1985, when he was sentenced to die for killing three people - Robert Bower, a store owner, his mother and his stepfather. He has said that he shot all three to death as part of a satanic ritual.

Sellers' case has attracted national attention as much for his age as for the work he has done from his cell in the past few years, counseling disturbed youth and helping parents to see the first signs of trouble in their teenaged children. According to Sellers and to doctors who have examined him, the brutal abuse he suffered as a child may have led to a multiple personality disorder, and they also say that it was during one of his several psychotic episodes that he killed all three victims.

Guest: Sean Sellers, 29, who has been on Oklahoma's death row since 1985, when he was sentenced to death for the murder of Robert Bower, a store owner, as well as his mother and his stepfather. He is speaking from his cell at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma.

 
 

Amnesty International

On 4 February 1999, the State of Oklahoma killed Sean Sellers for crimes committed when he was a 16-year-old boy. His execution brings the number of child offenders put to death in the USA since 1990 to 10 - more than in the rest of the world combined.

Sean Sellers' Childhood - "I was inviting demons into my body, and I was hearing all these voices in my head... They were telling me stuff like, 'shoot the class, kill everyone in the class.''I thought it was really cool at first. Then I got to where I was losing touch with my emotions. I hadn't felt anything for so long. I couldn't cry anymore. I just felt empty inside. It wasn't so much hateful or angry as empty." Sean Sellers, 19981

Sean Sellers was born in California on 18 May 1969 to a 16-year-old mother and an unstable alcoholic father, who were divorced when Sean was three or four years old. His mother, Vonda, then married a truck driver, Paul Bellofatto, and Sean would frequently be left with relatives while his mother and stepfather drove across country. At other times the couple would bring Sean to live with them.

By the time he was 16 he had moved some 30 times and had become a boy who preferred isolation rather than face the inevitability of leaving friends. An intelligent child, he performed well at school, but became more and more emotionally disturbed and detached from reality.

Although reportedly close to his mother and stepfather, from an early age Sean Sellers was exposed to violence and humiliation within the family setting. He has said that he suffered beatings at the hands of his mother as well as his grandfather. An uncle with whom he lived would make him go around in nappies when age 12 and 13 because he wet the bed. If he wet the bed two nights in a row, the uncle would make him wear a soiled nappy on his head all day.

Violence was apparently approved of and practised in Sean Sellers' family. His mother and stepfather always carried guns whenever they travelled. One of his uncles would take him hunting and try to teach the young boy to step on an animal's head and pull on its legs to kill it. Sean Sellers later recalled to a psychiatrist how he saw his uncle put an axe on a wounded racoon's head and pull on its legs until the head tore off. The young boy was frequently called a "wimp" by his uncle and chastised by his stepfather for refusing to take part in these violent acts.

At his future trial for murder, the jury would be left unaware of any of these details of his childhood. When he was about six or seven, Sean Sellers said that he began to hear voices in his head, often criticising him. At the time he thought all people heard such voices. For years he displayed extremely paranoid behaviour. He has described how he would fix threads to doors and brush the knap of the rug in one direction before he would leave his bedroom, in order to see if anyone entered the room.

He was subject to extreme mood swings, sometimes euphoric, other times suicidally depressed. As a teenager he became obsessed with good and evil, God and Satan. He increasingly turned to satanism and by the time he was 15 and 16 Sean Sellers was practising satanic rituals on a daily basis. He would store vials of his blood in the refrigerator, some of which he drank at school. He would perform acts of self-mutilation, such as putting sharp objects into his scalp.

He became involved with drugs, taking amphetamines in order to stay awake and carry out his rituals. When asleep he would dream of killing and mutilating people. At some point he began to have dreams in which he would kill his parents. Then on the night of 4/5 March 1986, reportedly after going without sleep for three days, taking speed and smoking marijuana, Sean Sellers fell asleep, woke up, took a gun and shot his mother and stepfather as they slept in their bed.

 
 

By Reason of Insanity : Death Row and the Mentally Ill

By Phil Bacharach.

Oklahoma Gazette, April 1, 1998

Sean Sellers aimed the gun at his sleeping parents. He stood at the foot of their bed, wearing only his underwear, and fired the .44-caliber into the backs of their heads. On the morning of March 5, 1986, 16-year-old Sean Sellers made himself an orphan.

But he already had become a murderer. Six months earlier, Sellers had walked into a Circle K convenience store in northwest Oklahoma City and pumped three bullets into store clerk Robert Bower. At the time, Sellers had confided to a friend that he wanted to know how it felt to kill. For many of Sellers' friends and relatives, it was nearly impossible to believe that this bright, courteous boy was capable of such atrocities.

A member of the Civil Air Patrol when his family had lived in Colorado, he had studied emergency response training and had graduated with outstanding honors. His teachers at Putnam City North High School knew him as a good student who loved comic books and had a talent for drawing. The Sean Sellers they knew bore little resemblance to the young man whom an Oklahoma County jury later convicted and sentenced to death.

Sean Sellers and Brent Ullery both have been sentenced to Death Row for committing murder despite compelling evidence that their actions were the result of profound mental illnesses. As it turns out, there might have been an explanation for the discrepancy.

In 1992, Sellers was diagnosed as suffering from multiple personality disorder (MPD). A team of mental health professionals secured by Sellers' appeals attorneys determined that he had at least three alter personalities and perhaps as many as eight. Now 28 and on Death Row at the state Penitentiary in McAlester, Sellers recalled that he was skeptical of the experts' findings. "I had seen 'Sybil,'" he said.

"I told them, 'That's not me.' I kept telling them, 'Nah, nah, nah -- you're spending a lot of money on nothing.' They kept saying, 'That's Hollywood. What you see on TV is Hollywood. MPD is a lot different than that.'" The diagnosis, bolstered by neurological and psychological tests, seemed credible to a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Although the judges rejected Sellers' appeals arguments, they added that "clear, strong and supportive" evidence indicates he likely suffered from MPD at the time of the killings.

The judges wrote that Sellers' claims "are supported by significant evidence the person facing death for three murders is not the person who committed the crimes." Nevertheless, some suspect that Sellers would not have been spared the death sentence even if evidence of mental illness had been presented at trial.

The judicial system's view of mental illness is alternately vague and narrow, with legalese terms such as "mental competency" and "insanity" far removed from the medical arena. In Oklahoma, for example, juries determine the sanity of the accused by employing a yardstick called the M'Naghten rule, which was developed in British courts in 1843. It seems that defendants are not guilty by reason of insanity if they cannot distinguish between right and wrong and fail to comprehend the results of their actions.

A tight litmus test, the M'Naghten rule does not necessarily exclude all people with severe mental disorders from a death sentence. Guidelines to determine competency for execution are even more restrictive, as condemned inmates only need to understand they will be put to death, as well as the reason for it. "There's a serious breach between medical and legal perspectives of reality," said Kevin Acers of the state Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

"You would think there would be an effort to reconcile those, but there isn't much of one. As a result, we have a criminal and penal system that isn't even obligated by law to look at the real issue of mental illness." His sentiments are echoed by Jackie Dahlgren. Her son, Brent Ullery, last year was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, even though prosecutors agreed he had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. "I've talked to an Oklahoma judge and he said, 'I'm doing what the law says, and yet I will see someone standing there, and I know they can't understand a word I say. But a state psychiatrist or somebody will say he's competent,'" said Dahlgren, who lives in Stillwater. A litany of falsehoods surround the insanity defense.

Despite widespread perceptions to the contrary, it rarely is used and even more rarely is it successful, factoring into only 1 percent of all felony cases. And defendants acquitted by reason of insanity typically spend double the amount of time institutionalized than they would behind bars. Moreover, legal scholars note that juries often become angry when offered an insanity defense. Research indicates many jurors automatically will believe the accused is faking symptoms or using the disorder as an excuse.

Such notions, according to mental health advocates, reflect American society's pervasive fear and ignorance of mental illness. Although the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill estimates that mental disorders impact one of every five U.S. families, many fail to even seek treatment, much less an adequate diagnosis. "There's a tremendous population of the mentally ill in the jails," said Pat Ratterman, board president of the state chapter of NAMI. "It's one of the shames of contemporary society. I think of medieval times. Mental illnesses are not caused by character flaws, bad parenting or bad behavior. If people think they are caused by these things, then they impose a moral judgment on people with mental illness." And some people, left to fend for themselves in the throes of a severe psychosis, commit murder. For them, medical treatment becomes death by lethal injection. Sellers' chief appeals attorney, Steve Presson, finds it an appalling scenario.

"When we get to the point where we don't care what a person's defense is, how mentally disturbed they are... then we just get into a lynch mob mentality," he said. "In Oklahoma they don't care. They'll execute a person with a 40 IQ who had no idea what they were doing -- what in Old English they called an imbecile. They don't care." But state Attorney General Drew Edmondson argues that legal definitions of mental illness must be restrictive.

After all, he pointed out, most of Oklahoma's 143 Death Row inmates could be considered mentally ill. "Committing an act of murder is a major criteria for anti-social personality," Edmondson said. "They're going to fall in there somewhere, or they wouldn't be on Death Row. There's something wrong -- either episodic or permanent -- to where you are unable to exercise the self restraint that society demands from the rest of us."

 
 

Seansellers.com

Who I Am

If you know who I am you've probably heard and read a lot of things about me. Over the years some of my friends have copied articles and web site spots and sent them to me. More often than not, I've been absolutely enraged to read what most people have written about me. Everyone seems to be an expert on Sean Sellers, from the cop who claims I'm a serial killer, to the first Satanist that says I'm a hero, to the second who says I'm a bad representative of Satanism, to the third who says I never was a "true" Satanist, to the first Christian who says I'm sincere but should still be executed, to the second who says I'm just trying to make people think that I am a Christian, etc. etc. etc.. And it goes on and on I tell ya.

The thing is-- not ONE of these people who speak so authoritatively about me KNOWS me. A couple of them might have met me once( and I mean a couple) but they don't "KNOW" me. Whatever they write about me, the fact is, they're not really writing about ME. They're writing about their own little personal IMAGE of me. Those images are as false and contrived as idols are that represent God. They are not "ME".

A lot of what is printed about me is done with a predetermined purpose. Often just for money. That was a big surprise to me, and it still gives me a sinking feeling inside. I first realized it when I found that a group was making me some kind of poster child in their campaign to oppose the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. I don't like the D&D, I have some strong opinions about it, but these people were making Dungeons & Dragons the reason I was in prison, and that just wasn't true. They were using me to support their OWN cause. They were writing about me with a specific agenda in mind, and creating an image of me to fit that agenda.

But they were only the first. Many followed. Once I received an underground magazine from some guy who was promoting the occult. It was a fanzine full of Satanic metal bands, an interview and artwork from Richard Ramirez, a cartoon of a child holding a sign reading "Free Jeffrey Dahmer". The whole thing read like a groupie publication for some band, with Satanic killers as the stars. This guy wanted me to do an interview. He was a big fan of mine he thought I was so cool for having killed three people. I asked him what he'd been reading about me. He told me about some crime books I was in. Apparently there's a market for gore.

Some publisher had put me in some books along with other killers. They showed pictures of my crimes and talked about my evil deeds. Again, they were just using me to support their own agenda. They never said a word about my renouncement of the occult, and when I told this guy I was a Christian I never heard from him again. He was just like they were. He was seeking to use me to promote his agenda, and use an "IMAGE" of me to do it. He wasn't really interested in "ME".

Christians have done it too. I did an interview with a minister once, for a video about Satanism. He also wrote a book on the subject, dedicated the book to me, and sent me a copy. When I read the book however , I came to the account of our interview, and it was all wrong. I mean ALL wrong. Not one single thing was right. Not the way it happened, not the quote-- nothing. I called him and asked about that. He confessed that not only had someone ELSE ghost written the book for him, but he hadn't even read it. You see, Satanism was the big interest in the Church then, and the subject was a moneymaker. I was his poster child for the project. He wasn't interested in me beyond that. As long as there was my name, face, and some image of me that benefited his project he was satisfied.

After years of this I've actually gotten used to it. I expect it now. Every time I pick up something about me I prepare to read something that skews it to whatever agenda the writer is using . The one about me being a serial killer was particularly fitting. The man who wrote it seemed to be desperately lifting up my name because the one shining moment in his career as a Police Detective was when he arrested me. And if he could make me a serial killer that elevated him even higher.

Many people have profited by writing about me. Two women wrote an unauthorized biography, for example. It was such a construed work of fiction they nearly got sued by my girlfriend whom they included in it. Apparently they read the facts of the case, talked to me twice, and when I said no, they decided to simply make up the parts they didn't know. It earned them a paycheck or two though.

Others use me for their own political causes. The district attorney who prosecuted me, Bob Macy, seems to go out of his way to sabotage anything good I might do. His political cause is to declare criminals all bad. Evil. Animals. If Sean Sellers is shown as a kid who did something evil, but is now trying to make up for it, then his cause is harmed. Thus he's said things like, "Sean Sellers was a Satanist" when it served his purpose, and "a Christian" when it served his purpose. He'd be a Buddhist tomorrow if it benefitted him.

I'd like to say I take things like that in stride-- water off a duck's back, but I don't All this stuff really bothers me. I want people to know who I really am not some image portrayed to them as me. I want them to know about the bad and the good. I accept judgment and condemnation from anyone if they form those opinions from seeing the true me. I don't expect everyone to like me, nor for everyone to hate me. If Bob Macy said,"I don't care who Sean Sellers becomes, he still killed three people and I want him executed for it, " I'd respect his honesty, and understand it. You see, I'm not trying to present an image for my OWN agenda here.

A part of who I am is what I did when I was 16. But that's only a part. One part. The rest of what I have done before--and-- since then, are also parts of who I am. The real me is the totality of them all, and that's who I want people to see when they hear the name Sean Sellers.

This is who I am.

Sean Sellers, 24 August 1998

*****

The Confession of My Crimes

To the family and friends of Robert Paul Bower, Vonda Maxine Bellofatto, my mother and Paul Lee Bellofatto, my stepfather.

First I must apologize for not doing this long ago. All I can offer you for that is that I did not understand your need for this. I didnít know it was important, because no one ever told me it was. And more than that, many people work hard to keep barriers between us, whether it be my attorneys who try to protect me legally, or my friends who donít understand the pain Iíve caused, or even you, who never came to me to ask why and how, or to see if there was any true sorrow in me. If I had known this was so important I would have done it long ago. Please forgive me first for that.

This is not a testimony. I know you donít care about my "spiritual state" and you donít want to hear me get "past" my crimes. To you I know that appears as if Iíve shrugged them off. I havenít. This is my confession, and it has no other purpose but to offer you the answers you deserve- and deserved long ago. I also need you to understand Iím offering only explanations. Iím not in any way trying to pass blame to any other person. There are reasons why I did what I did, but Iím still the one who did it, and the responsibility, no matter the reasons, is still MINE.

I was not a cruel person. I didnít commit murder because I enjoyed causing pain. I had pets all my life, and I wanted to be a veterinarian. I never was a bully, or provoked fights, or picked on people weaker than I was. In fact I got into a few fights standing up for people who were being picked on. When weíre kids we just feel things. When weíre adults we look back on our childhood and we figure out some of what we were feeling and why. There was a LOT of anger in me as a kid. I didnít know that, but it was there.

Mom had me at 16, and when she was 21, I was 5. I donít remember much before 5, but at 5 she left me with her father, my "Papa" (PAW-PAW) Jim Blackwell, his wife Geneva- "grandma" to me- and Papaís parents- Great grandpa and Great grandma to me. And she left. She met Lee- Dad to me- and she was gone. I only saw her when she managed to make it in every few weeks. And every time she and Dad left, I smiled, waived goodbye, and went to the bathroom, closed the door, and cried. Every time. And I never once let anyone see me do it.

In school I was Sean Sellers. But my grandparents were named Blackwell, and my Mom and Dad were named Bellofatto. I didnít know what the heck a "divorce" was, or why I had a different name, all I knew was that in that little bitty town I was the ONLY kid whose name was not the same as his parents. I was different- and in grade school no child wants to be different.

At age 8 Mom and Dad moved me to Los Angeles to live with them. This is no exaggeration; the school I went to in L.A. was as big as the town I lived in with Papa and Grandma. I hated it. Kids speaking Spanish, us living in dadís Aunt Terrieís apartment complex where no kids were allowed- so I had to be quiet all the time. I went from running all over the place, climbing trees, knowing everyone, to staying in or beside the apartment complex, being quiet, knowing no one, and being yelled at all the time.

Aunt Terrieís house was not a place for kids- and we ate dinner there quite a bit. I was always being yelled at for either being too noisy, or for fear I was about to break something. At school I was bullied by boys two feet taller than me, in groups; that was my encounter with gangs. A white boy from a tiny town in Oklahoma among Chicanoís in Los Angeles. Iíd never been afraid of going to school before.

Then one day at the apartment complex some older relative molested me. He got me to suck his balls. I never told anybody that either. I thought Iíd get in trouble, and I was ashamed. We didnít stay there long and I went back to Oklahoma to Papa and Grandma, but there was a LOT of anger in me over all of that. Over the next few years, Mom and Dad kept picking me up and moving me here and there. We never lived in one house more than a few months, or in one town more than a year, so I had several different schools, and never made any lasting friendships. That built up a lot of resentment.

Then there were things like Momís temper. She always spanked me with a belt, but she also just hit me. Slapped me in the face, "mashed my mouth"- a flat palm, straight-on blow to the lips that mashed my lips into my teeth. She did that when I got "mouthy" and it made my lips swell. It always shut me up though. She hit me in the head with wooden mixing spoons, butcher knife handles, hair brushes, whatever she had in her hand. Usually it was because I said something wrong, or if she was cutting my hair and I was fidgeting, SMACK! "Be still dammit!" I never knew what would get me smacked, so I learned to be very careful around Mom. I walked on eggshells and avoided her when I could. I tried to live in my room as much as possible. I hated her as much as I loved her.

So by the time I became a teenager and rebellious, there was a LOT of anger in me. Sometimes it just welled up and exploded. Iíd go to my room and just tear something apart, or go outside and kick a tree until my foot hurt. When I was 13, Dadís nephew, Steven, came to live with us. I liked Steven a lot. He was 18, and he introduced me to Ninjutsu. I got into the martial arts and ninja stuff and I saw something in Steven I longed for. Dad liked him. Steven was crass, tough, he liked the military, and he and Dad would talk quite a bit. Dad NEVER spent any time alone with me. We never did anything together. The closest we ever came to it was when he let me help him fix something around the house. I never consciously made this decision, but looking back I realize now, I wanted to be like Steven so dad would like me.

I got really into that Ninjutsu stuff because of that. But it didnít do what it was supposed to. I ended up living with my Aunt Debbie and Uncle James for awhile, and James thought it was all nonsense. He ridiculed me, made fun of me, and thought I was quite foolish for spending money on martial arts lessons. He laughed and teased me when he heard my instructor had gotten his jaw broken in a bar fight. All that plus the fact Iíd been moved yet again to another school in the middle of the year, only added to all my anger. And the books I was finding on Ninjutsu were demonstrating ways to kill people.

Ninjutsu was never a martial art of self defense. Today it has evolved into that, but originally the Ninja were soldiers whose art was assassination, and that was it. Nothing else. The books I was reading about Ninjutsu talked a lot about killing people. There were photographs, showing step by step demonstrations with instructions on how to kill someone with a knife, a stick, or your bare hands. Not self defense demonstrations, but ways to sneak up on someone and kill him. The philosophy of it was Zen.

When First Blood came out, we all went to see it. Me, Mom, Dad, and Steven. Steven and Dad liked it. When Rambo the novel- the sequel to First Blood- came out, Steven bought it. I read it. John Rambo was a Buddhist. He chose that religion because Zen taught him how to kill without suffering from a conscience. The Zen in these martial arts books taught the same thing. It was a philosophy that said Karma rules life. It is the Karma or fate of some people to die, and the Karma of others to kill them. No big deal. It just is. Dad had killed people in Vietnam. Being able to do so and not be bothered by it was a sign of strength to him.

The scene in First Blood where Rambo breaks down and cries- that was weak to Dad. When he heard that Martin Sheen had a nervous breakdown making Apocalypse Now, he said, " The movie was nothing. He should have been there for real," and that was his way of saying the actor was weak. I wanted to be like my Dad, and as crazy as this sounds, a part of that was to have the strength to kill someone, and not be bothered by it. I didnít want to kill anyone, I just wanted to have that strength. I wanted to be like Dad, and be able to shrug and say, "Itís not hard to kill someone," like Iíd heard him say to Steven, and knew with conviction heís done it.

Then when I was 15 we were living in Colorado where I loved it. I was involved in Civil Air Patrol, and had become the cadet commander of my squadron. Dad was proud of me for all I was accomplishing in C.A.P. and Iíd pretty much set aside all the Ninja stuff. Then we moved again. I literally begged Mom and Dad not to, to let me stay, anything, but we came back to Oklahoma, and everything changed. That was the last straw for me. For the first time in my life I had been really, REALLY happy in Colorado, and it was all gone. Something just broke inside of me and all my anger boiled into contempt. For awhile I quit trying to make new friends at school. I just did my work without talking to anyone. Thatís when I got involved in the occult.

I met a witch, learned about black magic, and got interested in Satanism. I was mad at God, I didnít LIKE God because of how I perceived Him, and the stuff I read on Satanism said two things that appealed to me. #1-- it offered freedom, and #2--it promised power to control my life, and others. Iíd been carted all around the state and Colorado all my life, slapped, smacked, hit, and had whatever I wanted ignored. I was mad and the idea of controlling my life to get what I wanted was like candy to me. Plus I looked at the way everyone around me lived and the stuff I read in the Satanic Bible in principle was lived out in lifestyle by Mom and Dad and everyone else I knew.

No one was a real Christian. We didnít go to church. We didnít talk about God. Mom and Dad cussed like the truck drivers they had been for so many years, Mom bought me a box of condoms when I was 13 and Dad told me to use them, weíd stolen stuff out of the trucks Dad drove, Iíd seen Mom lie to peopleís faces to get a deal or sell something, my aunt and uncle, and mom and dad smoked pot, and bought speed, so what was the point of pretending to serve God when we lived like Satanists?

Satanism taught me that I should make my own rules to live by in life, and thatís just what everyone Iíd grown up around did, so 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. Even then I didnít want to kill anyone. That desire didnít start until later.

As I began to do all those Satanic rituals, I found myself having some strange problems. As a kid Iíd heard voices in my head. A part of the reason why I never told anyone about that incident of sexual molestation in L.A. was because it seemed like MY idea from things I heard in my head. Those voices were just a part of the way I thought, and I never gave them any consideration. But as I did all these rituals those voices changed. They started sounding different- and being a Satanist, I decided they were demons and it was no big deal.

Demons were the beings that would DO the things I wanted done. They were the keys to the power Satanism promised me, so I wasnít afraid of them. Other things began to happen too, though. I began to have "blackout" periods where I couldnít remember what Iíd been doing. I also felt so empty inside. Cold. All that anger which had turned into contempt was now becoming a cold hatred toward Mom specifically, and by proxy toward Dad.

I need you to know this before I continue. I tried to get OUT of Satanism once. I didnít like what was happening inside me, and I was scared. I called a prayer line on T.V. I talked to a Catholic priest. I went to a Christian prayer meeting. But Iíd "sold my soul" to Satan and I was convinced I was doomed. No one knew how to help me because no one had any experience at it. I really wanted OUT, and when I discovered I couldnít get out I had only two choices that I saw; #1 was to go to hell like all the other hypocrites who lived according to the tenets of Satanism but didnít worship Satan, or #2 worship Satan still and rule OVER those hypocrites in hell. If I was going to hell I was at least going to be a ruler. So I got back into the occult. My God, how I wish I hadnít, but I did.

After that, things got worse. My mind was a jumble. I told Mom I thought I was going crazy. I told it to a teacher at school- Mrs. Noel, my drama teacher- too. Richard Howard, my best friend, and I had begun to talk about bizarre and evil things together. I honestly donít know when it started or why. We were both involved in Satanism, and Richard seemed to be the one to bring this stuff up. He talked about raping and killing an old girlfriend of his, torturing her, of stealing the cash from the money bag his boss took to the bank at night, and killing her. I fell right along with him. I enjoyed talking about this evil as much as he did. We planned robberies and rapes and violence, NEVER ONCE with any intention of doing them. Weíd just say, "wouldnít it be a kick to do this!" And weíd laugh about it.

The closest we ever came to actual planning was in the matter of his boss and that money bag. We actually drove out to where the bank drop slot was and scoped it out and thought the crime through. Richard wanted ME to actually do it because I was the one into Ninjutsu, and I could sneak up on her. Somehow, one night, during one of those kinds of conversations, right after weíd done a Satanic ritual in the yard beside his house, we decided to kill Robert Paul Bower. I wish I could tell you how it came up, but I canít. I honestly donít remember anything after that ritual except a haze and images of me and Richard talking. Richard got the guns. His grandfatherís .357 revolver that was loaded with 5 shells that looked like hollow points to me, and a .22 rifle of his brotherís.

We had talked several times of killing his girlfriendís father- Al Hawks. Richard wanted Al dead because he had beaten Tracy one night, bruising her eye and face, when he caught her on the phone with Richard. I think we were going to kill Al that night, but for some reason we were going to kill Robert Bower first. That seems stupid to me now, it makes no sense, but thatís what I think we were doing. I was going to kill Robert Bower and Richard was going to kill Al. Maybe so each of us would have a murder and couldnít tell on the other? I donít know. My mind was too gone to remember it.

Richard chose Robert Bower. I didnít even know the man. I had said I wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone. Iíd said that many times, but that was not the reason we were going to kill Mr. Bower. He worked the midnight shift at a very remote Circle K store and one night, because Richard stopped in and talked to him a lot on the way home from seeing Tracy, Richard thought Robert would sell him beer. When we got to the store, Mr. Bower refused, and that had made Richard mad. That had qualified him as someone weíd like to kill, and weíd talked about him in those conversations about killing. That night we just somehow decided to really do it, and it would be an offering to Satan to prove ourselves.

We went to the store and Richard talked to Mr. Bower for probably an hour. We bought fountain drinks, questioned him about not having a camera in the store. Wasnít that dangerous? Someone might kill and rob him. Robert wasnít concerned. There was only 50 dollars in the cash register at any one time, the rest was in the safe, and no one was going to kill him for that. Richard and I gave each other amused glances. A few customers came and went. Finally as Robert came out of the store to look at Richardís clutch pedal, since weíd just put a new clutch in his car and Robertís also needed one, Richard looked at me and said, "Letís do it."

I took the revolver and followed them back in, but I froze before I got inside. I went around the side of the store. I couldnít do it. Just couldnít. Then this voice spoke inside my head and said I was weak, I was a coward, and something blinked inside my mind. Thatís the only way I can describe it. One second I was shaking and saying I couldnít do this and then BLINK! I was cold, determined, heartless, and evil. I walked back around straight and tall, opened the door and stepped in. Richard saw me and held up something in the aisle where he stood. "How much is this," he asked.

Robert Bower was taking a sip of coffee. He peered over the brim of the cup, swallowed, said something and set the cup under the counter. As he stood up, I raised the gun over the counter, aimed it at his head, and just as he looked at me, fired. He flinched and it missed. He ran and I fired again, but he slipped and fell and I missed again. I heard him cry out, though.

He grabbed a green windbreaker which he wore when stocking the walk in refrigerators and held it up in both hands, hiding behind it as he ran bent over back and forth behind the counter. Richard came up to the counter and he ran from him and almost IN to me. I saw his eyes over that jacket, filled with panic, and I heard Richard say, "DO IT!" I fired, and Robert Paul Bower flew backward landing hard on his side. Blood splattered everywhere. He didnít move. When I turned around, Richard was leaning over the counter trying to figure out how to open the cash register. I said, "Go," but he didnít move. I took a few steps and said, "Go!" and he sprang out the door. We got in the car and left. In the car we laughed about it.

In a way that hurts worse than the deed. I always want to skip that part, but I will NOT. I wonít allow myself that. We laughed about it. We killed that man and we giggled like it was a fantastic prank since heíd had no clue what weíd come there for. I donít know why, but we didnít go on to Al Hawks house afterwards like weíd planned. Richard put his grandfatherís gun back, we emptied it and pressed the bullets and shells into the ground in the back yard. After that, I had killed someone.

Sometimes I wanted to tell Dad so heíd be proud of my strength. Heíd see me as strong, not weak. And sometimes I didnít even remember doing it. I didnít live under a constant awareness that Iíd killed someone. Most of the time I didnít even know what Iíd done. It was that blinking in my mind.

The person who couldnít do it didnít know he did, then blink, the person who did do it, remembered. Thatís the best I can explain that. When I was that person, that murderer, I felt superior. 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 Iíd be 18 so I could move OUT of that house.

Things turned very, very stressful at home. I met and fell in love with a girl named Angel, and Mom hated her. I mean hated her. Angel was a high school dropout, she was 15, she smoked, and I think Mom saw too much of herself in Angel and hated that. Mom had gotten pregnant with me at 15.

She badmouthed Angel all the time to me. Called her a bitch, a little tramp, a loser, and did all she could to keep me from seeing her. After a big argument one day with Richard at the house as Mom and Dad were getting ready to go out with some friends, Mom told me, "You want to leave? Go. Pack your shit and get the fuck out!" While they were gone thatís exactly what Richard and I did. I moved OUT. That night Dad came to work, took the keys to my pickup, and told me to get my ass home after work. The next day I was forced to move back in. Mom was ready to ship me off to California to Rick Sellers, my real father, but Dad said no. I was moving back and I was going to do what I was TOLD to do.

Things became even worse after that. Mom ranted about Angel, we even got into a physical fight over her. It wasnít much of a fight. Mom wailed on me like she always did, but now I was bigger than her, and I just pushed her. All the while that blinking was getting worse in my mind. I couldnít get away. I couldnít move out. I decided to kill my mother. I bought some rat poison and put it in her coffee, but it didnít work, even when I served her 3 cups of it. But after that, blink! and everything was different. We argued, but I just wanted to leave, I didnít want to kill her. Then blink! and Iíd be planning her death. One night that blink happened and when I came home form work I was the cold murderer who had killed Robert Bower.

I went to their room before they went to bed and took Dadís .44 revolver from the drawer beside the bed. I put it in my room and waited for them to go to bed. Dad talked to me about rebuilding the engine of my pickup together. When they were in bed I went to my room, did a ritual, dressed only in my black underwear, and then crept quietly into their room. There was nothing but cold hatred in me. There was some sense of, "Sean needs to be free and this will free him. This is the only way." That was not a conscious thought, just a sensation. Itís like that was the motivation behind it. I wasnít committing murder, I was removing an obstacle from my way. I was knocking down a door to a prison cage. All I felt, however, was coldness.

I put the gun close to Dadís head and fired, then immediately fired again at Momís head. Her head raised up, neck craning backward, and I fired again. Then I laid the gun down in the hallway and went back to the room. I felt relieved. I felt like a great weight had been taken off my shoulders. I went to take a shower and the blinking started again. There was a lot of blinking. So much so that nothing is clear. I ended up at Richardís house, and we planned what to do for the police. But it wasnít all an act. There would be a blink and Iíd cry real tears in real grief. Then another blink and I was calm and cold and putting on a show.

Iíve lived for 12 years now with the memories, knowledge, and grief of those 3 murders. This doesnít matter, but after years of work the blinking is gone and I remember everything both parts of me did. The stuff I donít remember is when- I think- there was too much blinking, like a light switch going on and off. Flick flick flick flick ON. Flick flick flick flick OFF. I remember the ON and OFF parts, but not the flick flick parts. What I remember horrifies me. I see Robert Bowersí eyes, panic struck. I imagine the sheer terror of his last moments alive, and I wonder how long he laid there dying. Was he conscious? How could I have done that?

I hear the words Dad said about rebuilding my pickupís engine. We would have done that together! We finally would have done something together. I see Christmas dinners that never happened. My mom with a grandchild on her lap. These are the ghosts I live with, and I hate myself for all I became and did. I am not just sorry, I am haunted. I think of all the people I hurt, of all the moments I stole from YOUR lives, and I know I deserve to die. Itís not right for me to go on living when these 3 people didnít. All I can offer you are the answers to why I did it, and to tell you it destroyed my soul when I did. No matter how long I live, or where I live, I destroyed myself when I killed Robert, and Dad, and Mom.

I beg for your forgiveness. I know I do not deserve it, and I know you hate me and always will, but I beg you, please, know that I am so sorry for it. Forgive me for the pain I caused you. From this I hope you can understand what happened and why, but I will not offer any kind of "justifications" or mitigation; no matter the reasons, no matter the explanations, I am the one responsible for my actions, and I take full blame upon myself alone. I also didnít write this to condemn Richard for his part in it. Iím the one who had the gun in my hand, and how the law worked it out is irrelevant. I only told it all as I did because thatís the honest way it all happened.

Please know that for as long as I live I will be haunted with the sorrow for what I did, and when I die I will have counted it more mercy than I deserved to have lived the life I did. Until that day, I want you to also know, I will spend my life trying to do things that will touch the world in a good way, to give back for all I took from you. Thatís the only thing I can offer with my hands and my heart. Itís simply all I have.

Please forgive me. -- Sean Sellers

 
 

USA: Killing Hope: The Imminent Execution of Sean Sellers

Amnesty International

December 1998

"If I could get on the stand and just tell them everything, including who I am today, I don't think they'd give me the death penalty." Sean Sellers 1998.

In the face of an overwhelming international legal and moral consensus that the death penalty should never be used against children, the USA is set to deepen its attachment to this particular human rights violation. For, on 4 February 1999, the State of Oklahoma intends to kill Sean Sellers for crimes committed when he was a 16-year-old boy.

International law prohibits the use of capital punishment against those who were under 18 at the time of the crime. The USA has executed 12 such prisoners since it resumed judicial killing in 1977. All of them were 17 at the time of the offence. Sean Sellers would be the first US prisoner executed for a crime committed at 16 since Leonard Shockley was put to death in Maryland on 10 April 1959.

In the 40 years since Leonard Shockley was taken to the gas chamber, the execution of child offenders has become virtually unknown outside of the USA. Since 1990, only five other countries are known to have carried out such executions - killing nine individuals between them. The USA alone has put to death that many child offenders in the same period, including the only three such executions known in the world in 1998.

Some 70 other prisoners await their deaths on US death rows for crimes committed when they were 16 or 17. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that children of 15 or younger at the time of the crime cannot be sentenced to death. In mid-1998, there were 16 inmates on death row for crimes committed at the age of 16, and 54 convicted of crimes committed at 17. For further information, see On the Wrong Side of History: Children and the Death Penalty in the USA (AMR 51/58/98, October 1998).

The USA has made no secret of its intention to flout the international ban on the use of the death penalty against children. When it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992, the US government reserved the right to ignore Article 6(5) which forbids this practice. The UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, as well as 11 European governments, have all stated that the US reservation is incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty. Yet repeated demands for it to be withdrawn and for this violation of international law to be stopped have gone unheeded.

Every country apart from the USA and the collapsed state of Somalia has agreed to be bound by Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which prohibits the use of the death penalty against those who commit crimes when under 18. The guiding principle of the Convention is that the "best interests of the child" should determine all procedures and justice systems affecting children. The overriding aim must be to give young people who are found guilty of a criminal offence the greatest possible chance of their eventual reintegration into society. The death penalty kills any hope of such an outcome.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, whatever the age of the offender. Every death sentence is an affront to human dignity; every execution, with its message that killing is an appropriate response to killing, compounds the violence in society. As the world gradually moves towards abolition, the USA continues to undermine this global trend, perhaps most markedly in its defiance of the ban on the death penalty against child offenders. Yet at the same time US political leaders proclaim their country to be the most progressive force for human rights in the world. The execution of Sean Sellers would reinforce the view that such claims are nothing more than arrant hypocrisy.

Sean Sellers childhood

"I was inviting demons into my body, and I was hearing all these voices in my head... They were telling me stuff like, 'shoot the class, kill everyone in the class.' I thought it was really cool at first. Then I got to where I was losing touch with my emotions. I hadn't felt anything for so long. I couldn't cry anymore. I just felt empty inside. It wasn't so much hateful or angry as empty." Sean Sellers, 1998 Quoted in "By reason of insanity", Phil Bacharach, Oklahoma Gazette, 1 April 1998

Sean Sellers was born in California on 18 May 1969 to a 16-year-old mother and an unstable alcoholic father, who were divorced when Sean was three or four years old. His mother, Vonda, then married a truck driver, Paul Bellofatto, and Sean would frequently be left with relatives while his mother and stepfather drove across country. At other times the couple would bring Sean to live with them. By the time he was 16 he had moved some 30 times and had become a boy who preferred isolation rather than face the inevitability of leaving friends. An intelligent child, he performed well at school, but became more and more emotionally disturbed and detached from reality.

Although reportedly close to his mother and stepfather, from an early age Sean Sellers was exposed to violence and humiliation within the family setting. He has said that he suffered beatings at the hands of his mother as well as his grandfather. An uncle with whom he lived would make him go around in nappies when age 12 and 13 because he wet the bed. If he wet the bed two nights in a row, the uncle would make him wear a soiled nappy on his head all day.

Violence was apparently approved of and practised in Sean Sellers' family. His mother and stepfather always carried guns whenever they travelled. One of his uncles would take him hunting and try to teach the young boy to step on an animal's head and pull on its legs to kill it. Sean Sellers later recalled to a psychiatrist how he saw his uncle put an axe on a wounded racoon's head and pull on its legs until the head tore off. The young boy was frequently called a "wimp" by his uncle and chastised by his stepfather for refusing to take part in these violent acts.

At his future trial for murder, the jury would be left unaware of any of these details of his childhood.

When he was about six or seven, Sean Sellers said that he began to hear voices in his head, often criticizing him. At the time he thought all people heard such voices. For years he displayed extremely paranoid behaviour. He has described how he would fix threads to doors and brush the knap of the rug in one direction before he would leave his bedroom, in order to see if anyone entered the room. He was subject to extreme mood swings, sometimes euphoric, other times suicidally depressed.

As a teenager he became obsessed with good and evil, god and satan. He increasingly turned to satanism and by the time he was 15 and 16 Sean Sellers was practising satanic rituals on a daily basis. He would store vials of his blood in the refrigerator, some of which he drank at school. He would perform acts of self-mutilation, such as putting sharp objects into his scalp. He became involved with drugs, taking amphetamines in order to stay awake and carry out his rituals.

When asleep he would dream of killing and mutilating people. At some point he began to have dreams in which he would kill his parents. Then on the night of 4/5 March 1986, reportedly after going without sleep for three days, taking speed and smoking marijuana, Sean Sellers fell asleep, woke up, took a gun and shot his mother and stepfather as they slept in their bed.

The trial

"You and only you have the power to stop Sean Sellers from killing again.... You don't kill anyone. What you do, you go out and you deliberate, and you decide, and if death is the appropriate verdict, you bring it back in this courtroom. That's all you do." State prosecutor, arguing to persuade jurors to sentence Sean Sellers to death, 1986

On 8 September 1985, six months before the killing of Vonda and Paul Bellofatto, a shop clerk named Robert Paul Bower had been shot dead at the Circle K convenience store in Oklahoma City. Sean Sellers was tried for all three murders. In the absence of any forensic evidence linking him to either crime, the prosecution's main evidence was provided by Sean Sellers' best friend, Richard Howard, who was with him at the time of Robert Bower's murder.

Howard was also initially charged with first degree murder, but the state dismissed the charge and recommended that he be given a five-year suspended sentence in exchange for testimony against his friend. Howard claimed that Sean Sellers had said that he killed Robert Bower because he "wanted to see what it feels like to kill somebody." Howard then testified that in the early hours of 5 March 1986, Sean Sellers had come to his house and told him that he had killed his parents.

A psychiatrist testified at the trial that Sean Sellers was incapable of forming the intent necessary to commit first degree murder, because he was either insane (by not knowing the difference between right and wrong) or "legally unconscious" (suffering from automatism and not conscious of what he was doing) at the time of all three killings. To rebut this, the prosecution provided testimony from a psychologist. The latter, who had briefly examined Sean Sellers to see if he should be kept in juvenile court but had not tested the boy to determine his sanity at the time of the crimes, was unable to rule out the possibility that the psychiatrist was correct in his assessment.

The trial jury was not instructed that Sean Sellers' age of 16 at the time of the crime was a mitigating circumstance. Instead, the jurors were asked to decide whether his age was a mitigating factor. The judge did not allow the defence to introduce expert testimony that juveniles are developmentally different to adults, on the grounds that all jurors would know this anyway. In contrast, the prosecutor was allowed to develop the notion of Sean Sellers as an adult: "He's only 17 [Sellers was 17 by the time of the trial], but when he picked up that .357 he became a man. And he walked out and he blew Robert Paul Bower away. And when he picked up that .44 Special, he became a man again. And he walked in and he blew Lee and Vonda Bellofatto into another world. He's acted like a man, he's going to have to stand up here like a man."

Nor did the judge permit expert testimony that the length of a life sentence in Oklahoma meant at least 15 years in prison without parole. The defence had wished to counteract recent local newspaper articles suggesting that life imprisonment meant release in under half that time. The judge refused to give the jury the option of finding Sean Sellers guilty of first-degree manslaughter if they had doubts about his ability to form the requisite intent for murder. This left jurors two options: to find Sean Sellers guilty of first-degree murder or to acquit him. Having concluded that he was guilty and a continuing threat to society, on 2 October 1986 they decided that he should die.

Psychiatric findings since trial

"I think this is just another one of his attempts to escape the death penalty. I guess we should have anticipated he'd come up with something like this multiple personality thing." Prosecutor at Sean Sellers' trial in 1986, speaking in 1998 Quoted in: By reason of insanity." Phil Bacharach, Oklahoma Gazette, 1 April 1998

In March 1987, Sean Sellers was examined by Dr Dorothy Lewis, a professor of psychiatry. She found him to be chronically psychotic, exhibiting symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia and other major mood disorders. She described how he was in poor touch with reality at times and was overwhelmed by fantasy.

In 1992, six years after the trial, three mental health professionals diagnosed Sean Sellers as having Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), a condition in which "alter" personalities manifest themselves in the sufferer. In brief, the three doctors found that: (a) a quantitative electroencephalogram test (QEEG) disclosed that Sean Sellers has brain damage as a result of a head injury suffered as a child; (b) the QEEG dramatically changed with each of Sean Sellers' alter states, indicating the presence of at least three alter personalities; (c) an Evoked Potential Test (EPT), which relies upon biological signals from the body and cannot be falsified by the patient, confirmed the QEEG; (d) two of the doctors, separately, spoke to two of Sean Sellers' alter personalities, named "Danny" (who demonstrated that he was left-handed, even though Sellers is not) and "The Controller"; (e) Sean Sellers suffered from MPD at the time of the killings; (f) one of the alter personalities, which is unlikely to have understood the difference between right and wrong, "must have been in executive control of [Sellers'] person or body" at those times; (g) there was only limited awareness of MPD in the mental health community at the time of the trial, when tests for it had not yet been developed; (h) MPD is a "hidden disease" which generally takes a number of years to confirm.

No remedy on appeal

"Although troubled by the extent of uncontroverted clinical evidence proving Petitioner suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder... and that the offenses were committed by an "alter" personality, we are constrained to hold Petitioner has failed to establish grounds for federal habeas corpus relief." 10th Circuit Appeals Court, 1998

Sean Sellers' state appeals were exhausted in 1995 when the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that his right to raise the claim of MPD had been waived because it could, and therefore should, have been raised at the time of the trial. It said that the evidence thus did not fall under the category of "newly discovered" which could have allowed for a successful appeal.

This ruling, apparently unsupported by any expert evidence, contradicts the undisputed testimony that it was not possible to raise the MPD claim at Sean Sellers' trial because the clinical tests for discovering and confirming the presence of MPD had not yet been developed. The experts also provided evidence that it usually takes several years and several diagnoses to establish that a person suffers from MPD.

Next, a federal district court noted "the significant neurological and psychological evidence" that Sean Sellers suffers from MPD and brain damage. However, it ruled that the evidence "does not amount to a truly persuasive demonstration of actual innocence nor meet the extraordinarily high threshold of showing that a constitutional violation will occur if [Sean Sellers] is executed." The court explained that it rejected the newly discovered evidence because the expert opinions were based on examinations conducted six years after the crimes, and thus the reliability of the conclusions was "diminished".

On 4 February 1998 a US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reviewed the evidence of MPD and acknowledged the "significant evidence that the person facing death... is not the person who committed the crime." The Court admitted that, if believed by a jury, this evidence of the culpability of an alter personality "renders the person known as Sean Sellers actually innocent".

However, it said that, as a federal habeas corpus court, it was restricted to ruling whether a sentence violates the Constitution, rather than to correcting errors of fact. The Court ruled that it could not act unless Sean Sellers' claim of innocence was so great that no reasonable juror would convict. It noted that, although the psychiatric evidence was "clear, strong and supportive", it had not been cross-examined in a courtroom, and also lay people (ie jurors) could be expected to be sceptical about MPD.

The Court said that it was therefore not able to conclude that not one juror would vote to convict, and it denied the appeal. The Court stated that it was "not unmoved by the Petitioner's dilemma" and that it was "not unconvinced that given an opportunity by a state court he could not cast doubt on the propriety of the sentence he faces". It seems that Sean Sellers will get no such opportunity. On 30 November 1998, the US Supreme Court refused to hear Sean Sellers' final appeal. Oklahoma's Attorney General immediately asked the state Court of Criminal Appeals to set an execution date, which it duly did.

Childhood to death via prison

"When I was 15... I went to a drama production that Sean had written. Seeing the play made me realize I was headed in the wrong direction... I understand the severity of the horrible crimes Sean committed. Although, at the time he was only sixteen years old. As adults, we are all different people than we were as teenagers. Also, Sean's life has not only changed my life but I have personally seen it touch hundreds of others. He is not just a man in prison who has no effect on others, but his life has purpose and meaning. Therefore, I am asking you to grant Sean Sellers clemency and spare his life." From a letter to Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board from 24-year-old Oklahoma resident, 1 December 1998

The international ban on the use of the death penalty against child offenders stems not from a desire to excuse crimes committed by children, but out of recognition that young people are not yet fully mature, hence not fully responsible for their actions - and that there are much greater possibilities for their rehabilitation and eventual reintegration into society.

Sean Sellers has spent his entire adult life on death row. For the past seven years he has been incarcerated in H-Unit, the maximum security unit built within Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. He was among the prisoners moved there when the unit opened in November 1991.

Amnesty International has concluded that conditions for H-Unit's death row inmates, who are held effectively underground in small windowless concrete cells, amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of international standards See USA: Conditions for death row prisoners in H-Unit, Oklahoma State Penitentiary (AI Index: AMR 51/34/94, May 1994).

While the rest of the world has agreed, via the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that "the best interests of the child" and maximizing the potential of that child to return to society should guide the treatment of children who come into contact with the law, US officials have kept Sean Sellers in dehumanizing conditions for most of his adult life with a view to killing him.

Sean Sellers has been an exemplary prisoner on death row, and it is reported that no incidents appear on his disciplinary record. In prison he has become very religious and has engaged himself in writing and artwork with a view to helping others learn from his experience. He has made several videos which have been shown around the world, in which he talks about the dangers of cults, satanism, and drugs.

Several people who have engaged in prolonged letter-writing with him, have credited him with helping them to deal with personal crises and turn their lives around. For example, a woman who was facing sexual abuse by her father began communicating with Sean Sellers by mail after seeing him on television. She says that their long exchange of letters helped her through her crisis, and that they remain strong friends.

Soon after Sean Sellers was sent to death row as a 17-year-old, he reportedly saved the life of another condemned prisoner, Henry Smith. Over a period of a few months Henry Smith had been repeatedly mocking, taunting and threatening Sean Sellers. He would warn the younger man that "he was going to get him" and that he should never drop his guard. One day Sean Sellers was placed on the exercise yard with four other inmates, one of whom was Henry Smith.

Two of the other inmates attacked Smith with knives. Sean Sellers intervened, stepping between Smith and his attackers and calling the guards. When asked by Smith why he had helped someone who had treated him so badly, Sean Sellers replied that it was because Smith was a human being, and therefore entitled to live. They became friends. Henry Smith is no longer on death row, having had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment by the courts.

The death penalty does not allow for the capacity of human beings to change. Still not yet 30, Sean Sellers is facing death because a jury a dozen years ago was persuaded that he would always be a threat to society. Surely the most powerful economy in the world can find a more humane response to the crimes of a 16-year-old mentally ill boy. Virtually all countries have stopped executing their child offenders. Why not the USA?

Into the final stage

"I just found out the Supreme Court denied me. On the radio, no less. I hate it when I find out things on the radio. It's so disrespectful to us here... Personally, the next step for me here is to be taken to a death watch cell. I'll be stripped of my art supplies, razors, shoelaces, belt, and put in a super maximum security cell with two doors instead of one. There I'll be isolated from everyone. I'll go to the yard alone, and I'll have no contact with any other inmate. Everywhere I go I'll be in leg shackles and handcuffs, including visits." Sean Sellers, 30 November 1998.

Since 1996, conditions for those H-Unit prisoners who exhaust or waive their appeals and receive an execution date have worsened. For the last 60 days of their lives, or until they receive a stay, the prisoners are transferred to solitary confinement in special double-doored "high-max" punishment cells.

They are removed from any contact with other prisoners, and are repeatedly checked and searched by prison guards. T his policy has apparently been enacted to prevent prisoners killing themselves before their government does. It follows an incident in August 1995 when Robert Brecheen overdosed on sedatives hours before his execution. He was rushed to hospital to have his stomach pumped, before being returned to the lethal injection chamber and officially put to death.

In a macabre illustration of the extent to which resort to judicial killing has led to a conveyor belt of death in the USA, there was a delay of a few days before Sean Sellers was transferred to 60-day lockdown after his execution date was set. This was because the three high-max cells in the death row area of H-Unit were already occupied by three other men - Tuan Nguyen, John Duvall and John Castro - scheduled for execution before him.

On 8 December Tuan Nguyen, the first man scheduled to die, was moved into the death cell - the cell adjacent to the execution chamber. On 9 December John Duvall was moved into Tuan Nguyen's vacated high-max cell, John Castro was moved into John Duvall's cell, and Sean Sellers' was moved into John Castro's high-max cell. On 10 December, Human Rights Day, Tuan Nguyen, a mentally ill former child refugee from Vietnam, was executed. Sean Sellers has said that he intends to write his own life story while held in solitary confinement in his high-max cell.

Executive clemency - a foregone conclusion?

"Even though his illness is such that he may be able to prove his factual innocence of those crimes, we believe he must be left to the avenue of executive clemency to pursue that claim." 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, 4 February 1998 Once appeals are exhausted, executive clemency becomes the final option. In Oklahoma, the Governor has the authority to grant clemency on the advice of the Pardon and Parole Board. He needs a favourable recommendation from the Board to grant clemency.

In response to the 10th Circuit Court's reference in its February 1998 ruling that Sean Sellers still "apparently" had access to executive clemency, Governor Keating was reported to have responded that he would never give him clemency. He seemed to be indicating that whatever the outcome of the Board's decision on Sean Sellers (it will probably hear his petition for clemency in mid-January), the Governor would use his power to ensure that the final outcome was lethal injection anyway.

Governor Keating is reported to have previously stated that he will not grant clemency to any condemned prisoner. For example: "Keating has said several times that no murderer will receive clemency while he is in office..." (Daily Oklahoman, 24 July 1996); "the parole is subject to approval by Gov. Frank Keating, who has said that he will not approve clemency for people convicted of a violent crime in the past 10 years or anyone convicted of murder." (Tulsa World, 16 November 1995).

International standards give all prisoners under sentence of death the right to seek commutation For example, Article 6(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: "Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence..." , a right that only becomes meaningful if serious consideration is given to a prisoner's clemency petition.

The responsibility for killing a human being

"Even if its a different me, its still me, isn't it? And if it's some other me who does something horrible and evil, isn't it an evil part of myself that did it? I want to take responsibility for it. I don't want to rationalize it away, and that's usually what it sounds like whenever I try to explain it." Sean Sellers on Multiple Personality Disorder, 1998. Quoted in "By reason of insanity", Phil Bacharach, Oklahoma Gazette, 1 April 1998.

Sean Sellers is no longer a child. He is a 29-year-old man. Perhaps the physical reality that it will not be a child who is taken from his cell on 4 February 1999, strapped down and injected with lethal chemicals, makes it easier for society to stomach this premeditated killing. The fact remains, however, that Sean Sellers is about to be executed for a crime committed when he was a 16-year-old boy. It is a death threat that his government has kept him under for the whole of his adult life.

The jurors at Sean Sellers' trial were encouraged by the prosecutor to rid themselves of any feelings of responsibility in the killing of this child offender, to rest assured that they themselves would not be killing him. They were encouraged to think of Sean Sellers, not as a child, but as an adult who had committed adult crimes. The trial judge did not allow an expert to provide the jurors with information about the relevance of developmental differences between adults and children. Yet it is precisely these differences which lie behind the international ban on the judicial killing of child offenders.

The Oklahoma state court system has washed its hands of the case by saying that Sean Sellers should have raised the full extent of his mental disorder at trial, despite undisputed expert opinion that this was an impossibility. The federal court system has acknowledged the extent of the evidence of Sean Sellers' mental illness, but has said that its hands are tied and that it can do nothing to help, passing that responsibility on to those who have the power of executive clemency.

The Governor has apparently ruled out this option even before he is asked to make a decision on the case. Meanwhile, in breach of its international obligations and apparently unprepared to offer moral leadership on the issue, the federal government continues to say that such cases are the business of individual states, and refuses to withdraw its reservation to Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which forbid the execution of Sean Sellers.

No one person will be responsible for the killing of Sean Sellers. He will have been killed by legislators, judges, jurors, prosecutors, voters, as well as by the team scheduled to actually administer the lethal injection on 4 February. Perhaps those involved in this premeditated human rights violation see it as their job, or defend it as the rule of law properly taking its course.

They may be ignorant or contemptuous of international law, or unaware that there is almost no other country in the world where Sean Sellers would be put to death. Many people in the USA have probably never even heard of Sean Sellers. If they do learn of his planned killing it may leave them unmoved, in a country which has been host to an average of one execution a week for the past six years.

Like many elected officials in the USA, Oklahoma's Attorney General refers to the condemned prisoner's "cold-blooded" crimes to justify his execution. At a press conference after Sean Sellers' appeals were exhausted on 30 November, the Attorney General said that Sellers had shown "that he was a very cold-blooded killer, even at that age, and the jury found that allowing him not to be executed would pose a threat to the rest of society". Yet an execution is itself a profoundly "cold-blooded" and calculated act, and a brutalizing assault on human dignity which Amnesty International believes is a threat to the well-being of society.

The Attorney General issued a press release on 30 November to announce that he would be asking the state Court of Criminal Appeals to immediately set an execution date for Sean Sellers. He reiterated the state's reason for killing the prisoner: "Sean Sellers committed three coldly calculated murders..." In a grotesque juxtaposition, directly under these words in the news release was the heading "Execution Schedule", followed by the names of three men - Tuan Nguyen, John Wayne Duvall and John Walter Castro - and the exact times, to the minute, of their planned killing by the Oklahoma authorities.

That the crimes for which the 16-year-old Sean Sellers was convicted were appalling is not in question. But his punishment is contrary to contemporary standards of justice and humane treatment across the world. Oklahoma has never executed a prisoner for a crime committed when under 18. Amnesty International urges it not to do so now.

 
 

Sean Sellers

Born in 1969, Sellers was 18 months old when his parents divorced. A year later, in 1972, he was left with relatives while his mother hit the road, seeking work. 

By 1976, she had remarried - to auto mechanic Paul Bellofatto - but they still traveled widely on jobs, and young Sean spent most of his time with aunts and uncles, developing a painful sense of rejection along the way. By age 12, he was actively studying Satanism, immersed in the dark fantasy world of "Dungeons and Dragons." Frequent moves increased his sense of isolation, and a 1983 reunion with his mother and stepfather scarcely improved matters. Dumped with an aunt at Okmulgee, Oklahoma, in March 1984, Sellers plunged deeper into his occult studies, drinking the blood of fellow teenage cultists and using it to write his own personal "dedication to Satan." Sean's family was reunited in the fall of 1984, in Oklahoma City, but the brooding 15-year-old was already over the edge. 

In February 1985, Sellers used his own blood to write: "I renounce God, I renounce Christ. I will serve only Satan... Hail Satan." Discovery of his occult interests led to angry scenes with Paul Bellofatto, Setups step-father telling the troubled boy, "You don't exist!"

On September 8, 1985, Sellers and another teenage Satanist invaded a local convenience store, Sean fatally shooting a clerk - Richard Bower - who had once refused to sell them beer. In his own words, the murder "opened a new portal" for Sellers, and he "plunged into Satanism with everything I had."

A few months later, in the middle of the night, he crept into the master bedroom of his Emily home, executing his mother and Bellofatto with his stepfather's own pistol. Sellers contrived to "find" the bodies next day, but his friends were suspicious, and his accomplice in the Bower homicide eventually turned state's evidence to save himself. Convicted on three counts of murder in September 1986, Sellers was sentenced to die, becoming the youngest inmate on Oklahoma's death row.

UPDATE--Sean Sellers was executed on Feb.4, 1999.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans

 
 

Sean SELLERS

In McAlester, former Satan worshipper Sean Sellers was executed, becoming the 1st U.S. murderer put to death in 40 years for crimes committed at age 16.

Sellers, 29, was pronounced dead at 12:17 a.m. after being injected in both arms with poisons designed to put him to sleep, stop his breathing then stop his heart. Outside, some 100 death-penalty opponents held lit candles and read scriptures. Some came for the 1st time, impressed that Sellers had preached Christianity from prison or upset that a murderer so young should die.

Sellers spent his final day in a holding cell next to the room where he was to die by lethal injection. He ate his last meal and spent most of the day visiting with about 10 friends he had met since entering prison in 1986.

Sellers died for killing an Oklahoma City convenience store clerk in September 1985 and his own mother and stepfather 6 months later.

His last appeal, to the U.S. Supreme Court, was turned down about 7 p.m. Wednesday.

"Sean Sellers' case is an aberration because Sean Sellers is an aberration. He committed multiple murders, the 1st one out of some sort of curiosity," Oklahloma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.

The attorney general complained the world press does not appreciate that hundreds of juvenile killers in Oklahoma never faced the death penalty and many of their cases never left juvenile court.

The execution drew international media interest. TV reporters from England, France and Germany were at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Sellers has become a cause celebre in recent weeks, with Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the American Bar Association and an ex-wife of rock star Mick Jagger among those seeking clemency for him.

Most cited two main reasons for opposition: Sellers' age at the time of the killings and a diagnosis that Sellers suffered from multiple personality disorder.

The diagnosis, by a Texas psychiatrist working on Sellers' behalf, came almost 6 years after Sellers went to prison, and prosecutors were never required to challenge it in court.

Sellers' lead attorney, Steve Presson, argued the diagnosis mandated a sentence commutation. He called it "a horrific legal error" that appeals courts said they couldn't consider the diagnosis because the issue was raised too late.

At last week's clemency hearing, Presson presented a litany of letters from people who said Sellers' ministry had touched their lives. Presson called him "one of the finest people I have ever known."

However, prison officials who have monitored Sellers since his incarceration had a different opinion of him.

2 former wardens and a former death row unit manager described him as a manipulator who was on his best behavior when visitors from the Christian community were around.

Sellers' cause had been helped by an Internet site created on his behalf. His Web page included a confession of his murders and lengthy journal entries he had kept since November.

In his confession, Sellers said he laughed after shooting Robert Bower, a Circle K convenience store clerk, giggling "like it was a fantastic prank since he'd had no clue what we'd come there for." A friend said Sellers admitted he wanted "to see what it felt like."

Bower, 35, was shot in the store on Sept. 8, 1985.

Sellers wasn't a suspect in that death until after he killed his parents on March 5, 1986, in their northwest Oklahoma City home. Dressed only in black underwear, he crept into their bedroom as they slept and shot each in the head. He 1st shot Paul Lee Bellofatto, 43, and then Vonda Bellofatto, 32. He shot his mother again as she rose up.

He later said he was angry at his mother because of her interference in his relationship with his girlfriend, a high school dropout. He said he had performed an occult ritual beforehand and, "There was nothing but cold hatred in me."

The last inmate executed for a murder committed at age 16 was Leonard Shockley, who died in Maryland on April 10, 1959. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1988 - ruling in an Oklahoma case - declared unconstitutional putting to death anyone younger.

Attorney General Edmondson was asked whether Sellers' death would spark more debate on how young is too young for a murderer to be sentenced to death. Edmondson said he hopes the debate on capital punishment never ends, because "it is such a serious matter."

"However, that is not our role here tonight. Our role here tonight is to see that the laws of Oklahoma are carried out," he said.

Among those seeking clemency for Sellers was Tutu. In a letter to Gov. Frank Keating, Tutu wrote that the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that "neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age."

In a written response Tuesday, Keating said he couldn't commute a death sentence without a recommendation from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. The board denied clemency last week.

"Myself and the majority of Oklahoma citizens support the death penalty as it is applied in Oklahoma courts," Keating wrote. "The law is applied fairly and equally in all cases."

As a sophomore at Putnam City North High School, Sellers drank his own blood at satanic rituals, took a satanic bible to classes and talked of demons flying and influencing him. In his own blood, he wrote, "I renounce God. I renounce Christ. I will serve only Satan. To my enemies, death."

He said he had become a Christian even before his 1986 trial. He later began a religious ministry from prison even though his critics considered the change an act.

"It's not some title I put upon myself, or display as a label on my shirt. It is the heart of WHO I AM and ALL I WANT TO BE. Christian. Christlike," he wrote in his Internet journal. "I dream of heaven."

Bill Mason, a minister who has prayed with Sellers and was in McAlester to protest the execution, said Sellers was being honest.

"He wants to make up for what he's done," said Mason, who wore a picture of a young Sellers with the slogan, "Stop Killing Kids."

Sellers was not eligible to be given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. It wasn't allowed in Oklahoma law until 1987.

One juror, Dianna Craun, said jurors chose death because they feared Sellers would be paroled in 7 to 15 years if given a life sentence. She also said jurors thought his execution likely would never take place because there had been none in Oklahoma in 20 years.

However, jury foreman Harold D. Niles, said, "I don't recall that being an issue. No, I don't recall that conversation."

Sellers married in prison - on Valentine's Day 1995 - but that was annulled two years later.

7 relatives of Paul Bellofatto were to watch the execution. 7 witnesses were to be present for Sellers, including 2 spiritual advisers.

Among those who turned down a chance to watch were Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy and retired Oklahoma County District Judge Charles Owens.

Macy said, "I've carried out my responsibilities in the case. My duty was to prosecute the case, get the conviction and get the death penalty."

Owens said, "I just refereed it, and I trust I gave him a fair trial.... I don't have any interest in watching him die."

He wrote of watching the movie "Dead Man Walking" 3 weeks ago. Sellers said he felt little compassion for the main male character, who "repents halfheartedly 20 minutes before his execution, more out of fear than sorrow."

Sellers said Oklahoma's death row is filled with such people, who "give nothing and stand for nothing. They don't think or care about what they did."

"It's not good enough to repent the day you die," he wrote.

 
 

Sellers v. State, 809 P.2d 676 (Okl.Cr.,1991) (Direct Appeal).

Defendant was convicted in the District Court, Oklahoma County, Charles L. Owens, J., of three charges of Murder in the First Degree, and the death sentence was imposed. Defendant appealed. The Court of Criminal Appeals, Johnson, J., held that: (1) defendant was not denied his right to trial by a jury composed of a fair cross section of the community; (2) State was properly permitted to rebut defendant's insanity evidence with testimony of a physician who examined defendant in connection with "reverse certification" proceedings in the case; and (3) the death sentence was appropriate. Affirmed. Lane, P.J., and Brett, J., issued specially concurring opinions.

JOHNSON Judge:

Appellant, Sean Richard Sellers, was convicted in the District Court of Oklahoma County, Case Nos. CRF-86-1231 and CRF-86-1232, of three charges of Murder in the First Degree. The jury recommended a sentence of death for each, and the District Court entered judgments and sentences accordingly. The case comes before this Court on direct appeal.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The record reveals that on September 8, 1985, a clerk at a convenience store in Oklahoma City was found shot to death. At trial, the State presented the testimony of Richard Howard, who claimed that he had been with appellant on September 8, 1985, and had observed appellant shoot the clerk with a gun owned by Howard's grandfather. Howard further testified that appellant claimed he killed the clerk because "he wanted to see what it feels like to kill somebody".

On March 5, 1986, the bodies of appellant's mother and stepfather were found shot to death in their bed. Howard testified that appellant came to his house early that morning and confessed the murders to him. Howard claimed that he suggested to the appellant that they hide the murder weapon, a .44 caliber revolver owned by appellant's stepfather, in Howard's house.

Police investigation showed that the guns described by Howard were, in fact, used to fire the fatal shots. Finally, Howard testified that appellant devised a plan whereby he and appellant would return to appellant's house later that morning, "discover" the bodies, and call the police.

* * * *

In the present case, appellant presented evidence in mitigation which consisted of his age, his record of being a good student in school, his record of being a good worker on his job, the love and support of his family and friends, the absence of any prior criminal record, his mental capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct and his prospects for rehabilitation.

After discarding the evidence supporting the invalid aggravating circumstance of "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel," and after carefully weighing the remaining aggravating circumstances against the mitigating evidence presented at trial, we find the sentence of death to be factually substantiated and appropriate. Finding no error warranting modification, the judgments and sentences of the District Court of Oklahoma County are AFFIRMED.

  


 

135 F.3d 1333

Sean Richard Sellers, Petitioner-appellant,
v.
Ronald Ward, Warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary,
respondent-appellee

United States Court of Appeals,
Tenth Circuit.

Feb. 4, 1998

Before PORFILIO, BRORBY, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

PORFILIO, Circuit Judge.

In 1986, at the age of sixteen, Appellant Sean Richard Sellers shot and killed three people. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death. He has exercised the full panoply of appeals and post-conviction remedies available to him in the state of Oklahoma. After a thorough and carefully considered sixty-nine page review of the issues presented it under 28 U.S.C. ßß 2241 and 2254, the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma denied relief.

Sellers has appealed that ruling presenting to us eight issues claiming denials of due process of law, effective assistance of counsel, and a fair trial, which individually and cumulatively resulted in a fundamentally unfair trial and unconstitutional sentence of death. Although troubled by the extent of uncontroverted clinical evidence proving Petitioner suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder, now and at the time of the offenses of conviction, and that the offenses were committed by an "alter" personality, we are constrained to hold Petitioner has failed to establish grounds for federal habeas corpus relief. Even though his illness is such that he may be able to prove his factual innocence of those crimes, we believe he must be left to the avenue of executive clemency to pursue that claim. We are not persuaded by any of the remaining arguments and, therefore, affirm the judgment of the district court.

Sellers' crimes were committed in two transactions. His first victim was Robert Bower, a convenience store clerk, who died because Sellers told a friend he "want[ed] to see what it feels like to kill somebody." Escaping detection for the first murder, six months later, Sellers killed his mother and stepfather, each with a single shot to the back of the head, making it appear the couple had been attacked by an intruder in the middle of the night. Afterward, Sellers told a friend he thought he had done a good job feigning his innocent discovery of the bodies and described how he stood in his undershorts while firing the two shots so no blood would spatter and be discovered on his clothing.

At his state trial on three counts of first degree murder, defense counsel portrayed Sellers as the victim of Satanism and occult worship. He further argued Sellers' addiction to the game, Dungeons and Dragons, dictated his actions and disconnected him from any consciousness of wrongdoing or responsibility. A psychiatric expert testified Sean was "legally unconscious" at the time of all three killings and therefore incapable of forming the intent required of first degree murder.

For the murders of Vonda and Paul Bellofatto, the State alleged and the jury found the killings were especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel; that Sellers constituted a continuing threat to society; and Sellers knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person when he committed the double homicide. To support the death penalty for the murder of Robert Bower, the State alleged and the jury found the heinous, atrocious, or cruel and continuing threat aggravators.

In the direct appeal of the convictions, Sellers v. State, 809 P.2d 676 (Okla.Crim.App.1991) (Sellers I ), the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals struck the "heinous, atrocious, or cruel" aggravator because the trial court failed to instruct the jury to limit the application of this aggravator to murders involving torture or physical abuse of the victim prior to death. In its disposition of the issues, the appellate court held the "probability of continuing threat" aggravator to be specific, was not vague as alleged, and was supported by the evidence.1

In a subsequent appeal from the denial of relief in a state post-conviction proceeding, Sellers v. State, 889 P.2d 895 (Okla.Crim.App.1995) (Sellers II ), Sellers asserted he had recently discovered evidence that at the time of the crimes he suffered from a childhood brain injury and a mental condition known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). He also contended he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected both contentions.

The court held, "although evidence of then existing but not yet presented or heard physical brain damage and MPD presents a valid ground for post-conviction relief under 22 O.S.1991, ß 1080(d), it has been waived under 22 O.S.1991, ß 1086." Sellers II, 889 P.2d at 897.

It similarly concluded by failing to raise it on appeal Sellers waived his argument that statutorily imposed monetary limits on funding defense expert witnesses precluded his properly exploring his insanity defense. The court held under ß 1086 Sellers also waived his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim and rejected "on the merits" his claim appellate counsel was ineffective.

In light of these holdings, the federal district court concluded each claim presented here satisfies exhaustion principles. Nonetheless, guided by then recently enacted provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), the district court issued a certificate of appealability only on the issue pertaining to the continuing threat aggravator and denied a certificate on the remaining issues.

Subsequent to that ruling, the Supreme Court held in Lindh v. Murphy, --- U.S. ----, ----, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 2068, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997), that ß 2253(c) of the AEDPA (pertaining to the certificate of appealability) applies only to cases filed after April 24, 1996. Because the petition in this case was filed before that date, the certificate of appealability is not a jurisdictional requirement here. See United States v. Kunzman, 125 F.3d 1363, 1364 n. 2 (10th Cir.1997). We have heretofore granted a certificate of probable cause and consider all the issues raised by Petitioner.

Petitioner asserts at the time of the murders he was suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder. He contends the State's misapplication of its own procedure has denied him post-conviction due process because he has been barred from the opportunity to fully litigate this issue. Sellers urges the evidence of his brain injury and MPD is material; could not have been discovered before trial; is not cumulative; and creates a reasonable probability of changing the outcome of the trial. Yet, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals erroneously ruled the claim had been waived under Okla. Stat. tit. 22, ß 1086 (1991).2 He argues the federal district court's review was clouded by that misapprehension.

Sellers asserts both state and federal courts overlooked that he had raised the issue in his original application for post-conviction relief, not a subsequent application. Thus, while Hopkinson v. Shillinger, 866 F.2d 1185 (10th Cir.1989), holds that errors in postconviction procedures are not cognizable federal habeas corpus claims, he asserts the proposition does not exactly address his case. He argues he is the victim of a judicially created "Catch-22" where state law restricts newly discovered evidence claims to a post-conviction proceeding, but he has been denied access to that remedy because he failed to assert the issue of his mental affliction on direct appeal. Consequently, he complains, the State has no mechanism to address his claim.

The federal district court relied on Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 113 S.Ct. 853, 122 L.Ed.2d 203 (1993), and Hopkinson to reject this contention, reciting the claim does not rise to a constitutional level because it is collateral to the basis for his incarceration. Nevertheless, in an abundance of caution, the court proceeded to address whether Sellers had persuasively demonstrated such a powerful case of actual innocence that it would render his execution unconstitutional. Ultimately it concluded Sellers had failed to meet this extraordinarily high threshold.

The court examined affidavits previously submitted with Sellers' state post-conviction petition attesting to his physical and mental state as well as the subject of MPD. Based on that review, the court stated:

There is significant neurological and psychological evidence that Petitioner suffers from MPD and some brain damage and a psychologist and psychiatrist who evaluated Petitioner in October of 1992 have opined that since or because Petitioner suffers from MPD, an alter personality likely or must have been in control at the time the murders were committed, if Petitioner committed them, and that the alter personality did not understand nor care about the nature of his acts nor whether they were right or wrong, or that it was likely that the alter did not know the difference between good and bad or right and wrong. But this evidence does not amount to a truly persuasive demonstration of actual innocence nor meet the extraordinarily high threshold of showing that a constitutional violation will occur if Petitioner is executed for a number of reasons.

(emphasis in original) (footnote omitted).

The court explained it rejected the newly discovered evidence because the expert opinions were based on examinations conducted more than six years after the crimes, and thus the reliability of the conclusions of which personality was in control was "diminished." Moreover, the court pointed out the experts "offered no basis for their opinions that an alter personality must have been in control at the time of the murders." Additionally, the court stated there was no evidence Sellers' host personality was aware of or could not control the alter. Finally, the court noted:

[T]here is overwhelming evidence in the trial record that Petitioner committed the murders and that the personality in control of Petitioner immediately before, during and after the murders was the same, was cognizant of what he was doing and understood and appreciated the difference between right and wrong and the wrongful nature of this conduct.

The court continued, even if Sellers established he could not have discovered the MPD earlier but for the constitutional violation which prevented the discovery, he failed to show his actual innocence or that any reasonable juror would not have found even one aggravating circumstance in any of the murders.

On appeal, Sellers maintains he presented to the district court overwhelming, undisputed evidence that at the time of his trial and direct appeal the clinical tests for discovering and confirming the presence of MPD had not been developed. Further, he provided evidence to establish that it usually takes several years and several incorrect diagnoses to determine a person suffers from MPD. The State submitted no opposing evidence.

We begin our analysis by noting the record is in a remarkable state. It firmly appears from the district court's observation Petitioner's claims are not fanciful; indeed, they are supported by significant evidence the person facing death for three murders is not the person who committed the crime.

Summarized, the uncontroverted expert affidavit testimony is: (1) A quantitative electroencephalogram test (QEEG) disclosed Sellers has brain damage as a result of a closed head injury suffered as a child; (2) The QEEG dramatically changed with each of Sellers' alter states, indicating the presence of at least three alter personalities; (3) An Evoked Potential Test (EPT), which relies upon biological signals from the body and cannot be falsified by the patient, showed multiple objective changes in brain function and reliably confirmed the QEEG; (4) A second series of tests and extensive interviews were conducted by a different physician who actually spoke to two of Sellers' alter personalities; (5) Sellers suffered from MPD at the time of the killings; (6) One of Sellers' alter personalities "must have been in executive control of [Sellers'] person or body" at those times; (7) There was only a limited awareness of MPD in the mental health community in 1987 when Sellers was tried; and (8) MPD is a "hidden disease" which generally takes seven years to confirm.

In light of this evidence, the conundrum with which we are presented, however, is whether this claim of MPD based innocence can survive the threshold requirements of federal habeas corpus to render it justiciable.

This is a unique and profound case because it presents intertwined issues of habeas jurisprudence. Unwinding the knot into which the matter is tied provides us with the key to its resolution. Before setting ourselves to that task, however, we are constrained to observe the question of actual innocence predicated upon the actions of multiple personalities has a twist that affords no parallel that we have found.

Given the unusual context of this case, we believe other courts have begged the issue by ruling the proof of Sellers' guilt is "overwhelming." Indeed, if believed by a jury, Petitioner's evidence of the culpability of an alter personality renders the person known as Sean Sellers actually innocent. Yet, we cannot reach that point because of the limited nature of federal habeas corpus and the precedent by which we are guided.

We must begin, as did the district court, with consideration of how claims of actual innocence fall within the scope of federal habeas corpus. It is settled that:

Claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence have never been held to state a ground for federal habeas relief absent an independent constitutional violation occurring in the underlying state criminal proceeding.

....

This rule is grounded in the principle that federal habeas courts sit to ensure that individuals are not imprisoned in violation of the Constitution--not to correct errors of fact.

Herrera, 506 U.S. at 400, 113 S.Ct. at 860 (citations omitted) (emphasis added). "Few rulings would be more disruptive of our federal system than to provide for federal habeas review of freestanding claims of actual innocence." Id. at 401, 113 S.Ct. at 861. As the Court noted, however,

This is not to say that our habeas jurisprudence casts a blind eye toward innocence. In a series of cases culminating with Sawyer v. Whitley, ... we have held that a petitioner otherwise subject to defenses of abusive or successive use of the writ may have his federal constitutional claim considered on the merits if he makes a proper showing of actual innocence.

This rule, or fundamental miscarriage of justice exception, is grounded in the "equitable discretion" of habeas courts to see that federal constitutional errors do not result in the incarceration of innocent persons.... But this body of our habeas jurisprudence makes clear that a claim of "actual innocence" is not itself a constitutional claim, but instead a gateway through which a habeas petitioner must pass to have his otherwise barred constitutional claim considered on the merits.

Id. at 404, 113 S.Ct. at 862. To pass through this gateway, petitioner must present evidence of innocence so strong that a court cannot have confidence in the outcome of the trial unless the court is also satisfied that the trial was free of nonharmless constitutional error, the petitioner should be allowed to pass through the gateway and argue the merits of his underlying claims.

....

[Moreover] the evidence must establish sufficient doubt about his guilt to justify the conclusion that his execution would be a miscarriage of justice unless his conviction was the product of a fair trial.

Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 316, 115 S.Ct. 851, 861, 130 L.Ed.2d 808 (1995) (emphasis added) (italics in original). Substantial claims that errors of constitutional dimension have caused the conviction of an innocent person are "extremely rare." Id. at 324, 115 S.Ct. at 865-66. To succeed upon a miscarriage of justice plea, a petitioner must show constitutional error " 'probably' resulted in the conviction of one who was actually innocent." Id. at 327, 115 S.Ct. at 867, referring to Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 496, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 2649-50, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986).

When the contention of actual innocence is predicated upon newly discovered evidence, the petitioner's burden of proof is to demonstrate "it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in the light of the new evidence." Schlup, 513 U.S. at 327, 115 S.Ct. at 867. Actual innocence does not mean merely that the new evidence creates a reasonable doubt of the petitioner's guilt but that "no reasonable juror would have found the defendant guilty had that evidence been produced at trial." Id.

Thus, the rule by which this case must be governed has several dimensions. First, the claim of innocence grounded in MPD itself is not a basis for federal habeas corpus no matter how convincing the evidence.3 Second, the claim of innocence is merely the means by which an otherwise barred constitutional error affecting the fairness of the petitioner's trial can be heard. Third, to allow a habeas court to reach that constitutional error, the claim of innocence must be of the magnitude that we can say no reasonable juror would have convicted Sean Sellers had it been presented at trial. These are very high barriers to Petitioner's success.

The first hurdle Petitioner must overcome is that his principal constitutional argument does not revolve about trial error but about matters that occurred subsequently. He maintains the Sellers II court mistakenly barred him from airing his evidence of MPD because of its erroneous interpretation of an Oklahoma statute relating to post-conviction review. See Okla. Stat. tit. 22, ß 1086.

Assuming the contention is correct and the Oklahoma court mistakenly construed the statute, the error is one of state law not cognizable in habeas corpus because "federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law." Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780, 110 S.Ct. 3092, 3102, 111 L.Ed.2d 606 (1990); Matthews v. Price, 83 F.3d 328, 331 (10th Cir.1996); Steele v. Young, 11 F.3d 1518, 1524 (10th Cir.1993). Although Petitioner indeed finds himself in a judicially created "Catch 22," the dilemma is not one we can reach through the limited access provided by our jurisdiction.

Petitioner is further hampered by the fact no constitutional provision requires a state to grant post-conviction review. Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 557, 107 S.Ct. 1990, 1994, 95 L.Ed.2d 539 (1987). Moreover, because the constitutional error he raises focuses only on the State's post-conviction remedy and not the judgment which provides the basis for his incarceration, it states no cognizable federal habeas claim. Montgomery v. Meloy, 90 F.3d 1200 (7th Cir.1996); Steele, 11 F.3d at 1524; Hopkinson, 866 F.2d at 1218-19.

Thus, although Petitioner has presented substantial credible evidence that now and at the time of his trial he suffers from a mental illness that may have bearing upon his factual innocence of the crimes for which he stands convicted, he does not cross the threshold barrier to federal habeas corpus. Even if the constitutional basis of his claim had affected the jury's verdict thereby permitting him to escape the barrier presented by a collateral attack, we could not say he has satisfied the high burden of showing no reasonable juror would convict him on the basis of the evidence he has presented.

The nature of his newly discovered evidence, in the form of affidavits, already has been called into question. "In the new trial context, motions based solely upon affidavits are disfavored because the affiants' statements are obtained without the benefit of cross-examination and an opportunity to make credibility determinations." Herrera, 506 U.S. at 417, 113 S.Ct. at 869.

Although the evidence presented in the affidavits of the psychiatric experts is clear, strong, and supportive, it has not been tested in the crucible of cross-examination. Nonetheless, the medical theory espoused is unique and, as the experts have established, virtually unknown at the time of Sellers' trial. It may justly be presumed that lay people would be skeptical of the theory. Thus, without benefit of a full exploration of the opinions of the experts by cross-examination, it is exceedingly difficult to believe not one juror would disregard the opinions expressed and vote to convict.

We are not unmoved by the Petitioner's dilemma. Nor are we unconvinced that given an opportunity by a state court he could not cast doubt on the propriety of the sentence he faces. Yet, granting him relief on these grounds is beyond the present scope of federal habeas corpus. He is not completely without recourse, however, because he apparently still has access to Executive Clemency. See Okla. Const. art. VI, ß 10; Okla. Stat. tit. 21, ß 701.11a (Supp.1990). Nevertheless, we hold the district court did not err in its disposition of this issue.

Petitioner next contends Oklahoma's "continuing threat" aggravating circumstance is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad and therefore unconstitutionally applied. Subsequent to the filing of briefs in this case, we held to the contrary in Nguyen v. Reynolds, 131 F.3d 1340 (10th Cir.1997). That resolution binds us here. United States v. Foster, 104 F.3d 1228, 1229 (10th Cir.1997).

At the penalty stage of the trial, the defense sought to present the testimony of a law professor who, according to the offer of proof, would testify that juveniles were developmentally different from adults. The state judge refused to allow the testimony. Petitioner now contends the refusal amounted to a denial of his right to present mitigating evidence contrary to the provisions of Okla. Stat. tit. 21, ß 701.10 (1981),4 and Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 115, 102 S.Ct. 869, 877, 71 L.Ed.2d 1 (1982). Reminding that Eddings holds that "youth is more than a chronological fact," id. at 115, 102 S.Ct. at 877, Petitioner maintains the error takes on constitutional proportions. He contends the State took every opportunity to capitalize on the absence of evidence pertaining to youth. Indeed, the district attorney argued to the jury:

He's only 17, but when he picked up that .357 he became a man. And he walked out and he blew Robert Paul Bower away. And when he picked up that .44 Special, he became a man again. And he walked in and he blew Lee and Vonda Bellofatto into another world. He's acted like a man, he's going to have to stand up here like a man.

Thus, Petitioner maintains, the State was permitted to argue about his adulthood, but the defense was not permitted to counter that argument with expert testimony. He asserts this prohibition eviscerates the use of age as a mitigating factor by removing any meaning from the concept.

He adds that the error was compounded when the jury was instructed it was to determine the mitigating effect of his age. Therefore, Petitioner concludes the state court denied him due process in excluding all of the testimony with the observation most people know the difference between youths and adults.

Relying in part upon Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604, 98 S.Ct. 2954, 2964-65, 57 L.Ed.2d 973 (1978) ( plurality), and Eddings, 455 U.S. at 104, 102 S.Ct. at 871, the district court observed a sentencer must not be precluded from considering the defendant's character or the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers in mitigation. Citing Blystone v. Pennsylvania, 494 U.S. 299, 304-05, 110 S.Ct. 1078, 1082-83, 108 L.Ed.2d 255 (1990), the court noted the type of evidence required by the Constitution to be presented to the sentencer is that pertaining to a defendant's character, record or background, and the circumstances of the offense.

With those principles as guidelines, the court reviewed Petitioner's offer of proof at trial and discovered defense counsel, in his own words, intended the testimony show Oklahoma's history of not executing juveniles, that most of the "civilized nations" with the exception of the United States and "a few other nations" do not allow the execution of a person under the age of eighteen; and, that although there are international treaties banning the execution of minors, the United States has not ratified them.

The professor also would have stated a civilized society would prohibit the execution of a person who was under the age of eighteen at the time the crime was committed. The notion that juveniles are developmentally different was integrated into many arguments and was, according to trial counsel, " a factor that should be considered in totally abolishing the death penalty for juveniles."

From this record, the district court gleaned the proffered testimony is "best characterized as a policy argument as to why the death penalty for juveniles should be abolished--an argument appropriately directed to the Oklahoma Legislature." More importantly, the court noted, the proffered testimony was not "relevant mitigating evidence of the character and record or background of the defendant and the circumstances of the offense." The court observed the developmental difference between adults and juveniles "is a fact within the knowledge which jurors possess in common with other persons."

Therefore, the court reasoned when this knowledge is coupled with the state court's instruction that the jury could employ its general knowledge in arriving at the sentence, the mitigating effect of the developmental differences was placed before the jury, citing Graham v. Collins, 506 U.S. 461, 475, 113 S.Ct. 892, 901-02, 122 L.Ed.2d 260 (1993). We agree with that analysis and cannot add to it in any intelligent manner. We see no error in this ruling.

Petitioner next maintains the state trial court unconstitutionally limited his voir dire of the jury on the subject of the death penalty. The court sustained the State's objection to defense counsel's asking prospective jurors whether the juror would consider the youth of the defendant as a mitigating factor, making it impossible, he contends, to carefully exercise his peremptory challenges. In contrast, he complains the trial court permitted the prosecutor to ask jurors whether they would be offended to have "[me] as district attorney seeking the death penalty for a 17-year old...."

Further, when the prosecutor told the jury it could find there were no mitigating factors, it underscored the State's argument that youth is not a proper mitigating consideration. Petitioner urges the court's refusal to permit his line of inquiry is contrary to Eddings. He argues if the Constitution allows voir dire on racial attitudes in a case involving an interracial incident, Turner v. Murray, 476 U.S. 28, 37, 106 S.Ct. 1683, 1688-89, 90 L.Ed.2d 27 (1986), surely asking a juror whether he has any bias or attitude toward youth would be appropriate.

Attitudes toward youth, he urges, could be as fixed as attitudes toward always or never imposing the death penalty. Petitioner argues: "a person on trial for his life has a constitutional right to know whether a prospective juror will follow the law." As youth is a mitigating factor, it was "especially important for Sean Sellers to know which potential jurors would be skeptical of using youth as a mitigator."

Petitioner states the prosecutor knew what defense counsel was seeking and improperly blocked this line of questions. By prohibiting counsel from asking these questions, the state trial court violated Petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel.

In rejecting this contention, the federal district court found the voir dire "constitutionally adequate" because jurors were asked individually and collectively whether they would consider life imprisonment or whether they would automatically impose a death sentence if Sellers were found guilty.

The court observed Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 424, 105 S.Ct. 844, 852, 83 L.Ed.2d 841 (1985), sets forth the standard for excluding jurors for cause: "That standard is whether the juror's views would prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath." The fundamental purpose of the inquiry is whether the juror will follow the law. Mackall v. Murray, 109 F.3d 957, 963 (4th Cir.1997).

In United States v. McCullah, 76 F.3d 1087, 1114 (10th Cir.1996), we also held a trial court is not "required ... to allow inquiry into each juror's views as to specific mitigating factors as long as the voir dire was adequate to detect those in the venire who would automatically vote for the death penalty."

In this case, defense counsel attempted to inquire into whether prospective jurors would find specific facts mitigating. This effort is not equatable to whether a juror would refuse to consider mitigation of any kind. As noted by the district court, a juror of that mind-set would be excusable for cause, but what Petitioner was attempting to do was to ferret out information that would aid in the exercise of his peremptory challenges. So long as the voir dire is adequate to detect jurors who could not be impartial, a trial court is not required by the Constitution to grant such a searching inquiry. Id. at 1114.

Indeed, the breadth of questions eliciting jurors' opinions about the death penalty itself must lie within the discretion of the trial judge. In this instance, we agree with the district court the voir dire was adequate to serve the constitutional mandate of providing an impartial jury.

Petitioner contends the Confrontation Clause was violated when the trial judge closed an area of inquiry to defense counsel during cross-examination of the State's psychological expert witness, Dr. Herman Jones. Defense counsel attempted to question whether Dr. Jones would change his opinion of Sellers' state of mind after consideration of certain of Sellers' specific past writings.

The district court sustained the State's objection because the court had already held the documents contained inadmissible hearsay; therefore, the testimony would also be inadmissible. Counsel made an offer of proof that the writings, which Dr. Jones had not examined, would bear directly on the basis of the expert's opinion.

The federal district court rejected this claim, concluding Petitioner's rights to due process and to compel favorable testimony were not violated. Habeas relief is not available on this ground unless the Petitioner can show his whole trial was rendered fundamentally unfair by the limitation of the cross-examination. See Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 642, 94 S.Ct. 1868, 1871, 40 L.Ed.2d 431 (1974).

As the district court observed, review of this issue in the context of federal habeas corpus is an inquiry which turns on the materiality of the excluded evidence to the presentation of the defense. Matthews v. Price, 83 F.3d 328, 332 (10th Cir.1996).

The question devolves to whether the ruling deprived Sellers of "an opportunity for effective cross-examination, not cross-examination that is effective in whatever way, and to whatever extent, the defense might wish." Delaware v. Fensterer, 474 U.S. 15, 20, 106 S.Ct. 292, 294, 88 L.Ed.2d 15 (1985) (italics in original).

As did the district court, we have reviewed the record of the direct and cross-examination of Dr. Jones, and we see nothing in the limitation of examination which meets the required tests. Because the opinion expressed by Dr. Jones was diametrically opposed to that of Petitioner's expert, Dr. Krimsky, the purpose for the cross-examination was to call into question the basis upon which Dr. Jones arrived at his diagnosis.

Although Dr. Jones stated having access to Sellers' writings would aid in his analysis, we are unsure whether the writings would affect his opinion. Moreover, defense counsel conducted a thorough examination of Dr. Jones' evaluation of Sellers' condition and the various points on which Dr. Jones and Dr. Krimsky differed.

Even assuming, for the sake of review, the materiality of the writings, we simply cannot say the record discloses the denial of an effective cross-examination of the State's expert. Nor do we believe the restriction on cross-examination had a substantial or direct influence on the verdicts.

Because Oklahoma law permits introduction of any mitigating evidence, Petitioner urges it was error for the trial court to prevent his witness, Ms. Betsey Payne, the executive secretary of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, from testifying that a person sentenced to life imprisonment could not be considered for parole for at least fifteen calendar years and is not eligible to receive good time or other credits.

Left with the decision then to sentence him to death or to life, believing that meant he would be out in a short time, the jury was deprived of vital mitigating evidence to inform its choice. Petitioner relies on Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154, 114 S.Ct. 2187, 129 L.Ed.2d 133 (1994), which held in some circumstances states may decide whether to inform the jury about the parole eligibility status of a life sentence.

Once again, our consideration of this issue is foreclosed by Nguyen v. Reynolds, 131 F.3d 1340. There, following the Teague doctrine, we held Simmons inapplicable to death sentences imposed prior to its issuance. Inasmuch as the penalty in this case was decreed prior to Simmons, we must abide by that holding.

Petitioner contends the state district attorney made comments during closing argument which he believes violated his due process rights and unfairly minimized the jury's sense of responsibility for the imposition of the death penalty. Petitioner states the district attorney "kept referring to himself in the third person, and was sending a strong signal to the jury that it was the district attorney who approved of the death penalty, and that many hurdles had to be jumped before a capital murder trial could ever occur."

Petitioner also observes, "he even suggested to the jury that had there been only one incident, he would not have sought the death penalty." Indeed, the prosecutor told the jury, had it not been for the multiple crimes, "You probably wouldn't be here right now."

The district court found "in the context of the entire final argument" the statements were "not reasonably susceptible to an interpretation that the district attorney or some other authority, not the jury, was the final or true arbiter of [Sellers'] punishment." Thus, the court concluded, unlike those in Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, 340-41, 105 S.Ct. 2633, 2645-46, 86 L.Ed.2d 231 (1985), the prosecutor's statements in this case did not render the death penalty verdicts unreliable. We agree.

Viewing the record with charity, we note the prosecutor's hyperbole may be regarded as colorful. It is not, however, the stuff from which anyone could perceive an offer to share the burden of the ultimate decisions in this case. Thus, we agree with the district court that the district attorney did not run afoul of Caldwell. We conclude there is no merit in Petitioner's argument. See Hopkinson, 888 F.2d at 1295 n. 5.

Finally, Petitioner contends he was denied his right to the effective assistance of counsel. In a double faceted attack, Petitioner argues he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel because his attorney did not discover the evidence of his brain injury and MPD.

Alternatively, Petitioner argues his attorney "woefully underemphasized the best evidence for an insanity verdict" by choosing to focus on his Satanism and cultism rather than his inability to distinguish right from wrong. He concludes by asserting he was prejudiced by the state statute which limited him to $750 with which to obtain psychiatric assistance.5

In light of Petitioner's own evidence that MPD could not have been discovered at the time of his trial, his Sixth Amendment argument based on trial counsel's failure to discover the defense sounds with a hollow ring, notwithstanding the spin put on it by the Oklahoma court. Having provided us with an uncontroverted record that the illness could not have been discovered at the time of trial, we will not accept Petitioner's postulate here.

The district court undertook a thorough examination of the record in light of the contention trial counsel failed to properly assert a "traditional" insanity defense and concluded counsel's strategy was not unsound, relying upon Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2065, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). The court observed the state of expert evidence at the time of trial undercut the value of the insanity defense because at best the evidence showed Sellers was not "mentally ... aware, not appreciating, not registering what was happening" at the time of the killings of his mother and stepfather.

Moreover, the district court found the jury ultimately considered a "traditional temporary insanity defense" and concluded the evidence of Sellers' involvement with Dungeons and Dragons and Satanism "buttressed rather than detracted from the insanity defense" despite the alleged novelty of that approach. Thus, the court held Petitioner was not prejudiced by his trial counsel's failure to focus on the traditional defense. The court concluded its confidence in the outcome of the trial was not undermined.

Claims of ineffective counsel are mixed questions of law and fact which we review de novo. See Williamson v. Ward, 110 F.3d 1508, 1513 (10th Cir.1997). To prevail on his claim of ineffective trial counsel, Petitioner must show the performance of counsel was deficient in so serious a manner that counsel was not providing the level of representation required by the Sixth Amendment and the deficient performance was so prejudicial that he was deprived of a fair trial with a reliable result. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064.

Courts may address the performance and prejudice components in any order but need not address both if a petitioner fails to make a sufficient showing of one. Id. at 697, 104 S.Ct. at 2069-70. Focusing upon the contention here that trial counsel's performance was deficient, we are guided by the principle that to be constitutionally deficient counsel's performance must have been completely unreasonable, not merely wrong. Hoxsie v. Kerby 108 F.3d 1239, 1246 (10th Cir.1997).

With these thoughts in mind, we agree with the conclusion reached by the district court. Although the benefits of hindsight make it easy to suggest how better issues could have been raised, we believe it is clear trial counsel functioned appropriately within the ambit of available evidence and his performance was not unreasonable. We hold, therefore, Petitioner has failed to satisfy his burden of persuasion.

Moreover, having rested his claim of ineffective appellate counsel on failure to assert trial counsel was incompetent for not raising the MPD defense, we believe our conclusions here summarily dispatch Petitioner's argument on that score.

Finally, Petitioner argues here, as he did in the district court, the limitation on available funds for psychiatric assistance deprived him of the opportunity to have further significant tests performed which the evidence of his brain damage should have indicated.

The district court carefully analyzed this issue and found, first, there was no evidence in the record reflecting the defense expert did not consider the possibility of Petitioner's organic brain disorder or further specific testing was required but not performed because of inadequate funding.

Moreover, Petitioner admitted routine psychological examinations given to criminal defendants did not include such tests. The court carefully observed, however, even assuming the expert was inadequate in his clinical observations and failed to require necessary testing, there is nothing in the record suggesting trial counsel was aware of the deficiency.

When coupled with the Petitioner's lack of "outward manifestations" of organic brain damage or other evidence of psychological disorder, the routine exclusion of certain testing and the presumption of reasonable professionalism to be accorded counsel, the district court failed to find a Sixth Amendment violation based on the suggested lack of funding. Unable to add to the careful analysis of the district court, we simply concur in its reasoning and conclusions. Concluding counsel was not deficient, we need not examine whether Petitioner was prejudiced by his acts.

Petitioner states our refusal to grant his motion to file a brief in excess of seventy-five pages deprived him of the opportunity to brief other issues. Believing the number of issues he was able to address is as much a function of counsel's loquaciousness as it is our limitation on the number of pages available for discourse, we have nonetheless examined the record of the additional matters presented to the district court and the decisions made on those issues. Suffice to say that examination leads us to conclude the district court did not err in any respect. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

*****

1

The Court of Criminal Appeals stated:

Furthermore, the evidence presented at trial amply supported the jury's finding of this circumstance. Prior to killing the convenience store clerk, appellant showed Howard [his friend] the gun he was carrying and told him, "I want to see what it feels like to kill somebody." So he did. In the following months, appellant bragged of his conduct to friends and co-workers. Then, six months after the first homicide, he shot and killed his own parents. He took precautions to make sure that his parents were dead and to make sure no one had heard the shots. He committed the murders in his under shorts so that no blood could spatter on his clothes. He intended to use Howard as an alibi and conceived an elaborate plan to "discover" his parents dead in bed. The repeated incidences of violence and the calloused manner of appellant's actions in this case support finding this aggravating circumstance in all three homicides.

Sellers v. State, 809 P.2d 676, 690 (Okla.Crim.App.1991) (Sellers I ).

2

That section entitled "Subsequent Application" is part of the Post-Conviction Procedure Act and states, in part:

All grounds for relief ... must be raised in his original, supplemental or amended application. Any ground finally adjudicated or not so raised, or knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently waived in the proceeding that resulted in the conviction or sentence or in any other proceeding the applicant has taken to secure relief may not be the basis for a subsequent application unless the court finds a ground for relief asserted which for sufficient reason was not asserted or was inadequately raised in the prior application.

(emphasis added).

3

Interestingly, the claim is grounds for post-conviction relief under Oklahoma law. See Sellers v. State, 889 P.2d 895, 897 (Okla.Crim.App.1995) (Sellers II)

4

That section states:

Upon conviction ... of guilt of a defendant of murder in the first degree, the court shall conduct a separate sentencing proceeding to determine whether the defendant should be sentenced to death, life imprisonment without parole or life imprisonment.

....

In the sentencing proceeding, evidence may be presented as to any mitigating circumstances or as to any of the aggravating circumstances enumerated in Section 701.7 et seq. of this title.

(italics added).

5

Although Petitioner also advances a somewhat unclear argument that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals incorrectly ruled on his ineffective counsel claim, we see that contention presented to us in the posture of an invitation to review the propriety of the state court's holding. We decline the invitation as beyond the scope of 28 U.S.C. ß 2254

 

 

 
 
 
 
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