Sean Sellers was child from a broken home, shunted from family member to family member developing an unhealthy fixation on Satanism and the merits of good against evil. By the age of 16-years-old in September 1985, he had murdered a 32-year-old store clerk with a handgun ‘to see what it felt like’, according to the testimony of his friend and the only witness to the killing. Six months later, Sellers took a revolver and murdered his mother and his stepfather as they slept in their home in Oklahoma City. Convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, he was given the death penalty and at 29-years-old in 1999, he was executed under a storm of controversy over an adult being executed for crimes committed while still a juvenile and under the age of 17.
This case received attention, not only for the horrific shootings Sean Sellers committed at such a young age, but due to the media hype and Sean Sellers himself associating his behaviour with Satanism and for want of a better term, devil worship.
In research gathered by the Department of Psychology at Radford University it can be seen that Sean Sellers began to hear voices in his head at the age of 6 or 7 years old, experiencing mood swings, episodes of paranoia and periods of manic euphoria mixed with dramatic shifts to darkness and depression. At 8-years-old he was introduced to Satanism through books owned by his babysitter who would being them over in the absence of his parents. Sean spent most of his childhood being passed from relative to relative as his mother Vonda and stepfather Paul Bellofatto worked away as truck drivers.
In the years that followed his personal interest in good and evil, God against Satan, vampirism and the game Dunguns and Dragons increased, something he kept largely private until he met up again with a childhood friend with similar interests in his early teens. He began to practice Satanic rituals on a regular basis, drinking blood, self-mutilating, and reportedly ‘devoted his soul’ to the devil at age 15 in 1984.
During his high school years it became more publicly known amongst his peers that Sellers had an interest in evil and in Satan, writing, “I renounce God. I renounce Christ. I will serve only Satan. To my enemies, death,” while at Putnam City North High School in Oklahoma City.
Dr Kathleen Heide, Professor of Criminology at the University of South Florida in her book on parricide “Understanding Parricide: When Sons and Daughters Kill Parents”, discusses the Sellers case, and highlights how at the age of 15 he started a small group who called themselves ‘Elimination’ comprised of equally minded teens focused on the ‘theories of good and evil’ who carried out rituals in a belief they would ‘invoke the power of Satan’.
By working through each of the 10 commandments one by one, they finally reached “Thou shall not murder”, leading directly to the murder of Robert Bower on 8 September 1985. Sean Sellers and his friend, Richard Howard, went to a local convenience store that night and upon entry Sellers raised his gun and opened fire on an innocent Robert Bower who was simply there to do his job. Robert Bower desperately ran through the store in attempt to escape but was hit and killed by the bullets unleashed by a determined teenage boy. After the shooting, the boys simply left the store leaving no clues behind for police to identify them or tie them to the murder. Over the following months, Seller’s Elimination group broke apart and members went their separate ways, however, Seller’s drive towards Satanic practices remained strong.
On 5 March 1986, Sean Sellers shot his mother and his stepfather while they slept using his stepfather’s .44 revolver. Case documents available through the Office of the Clark County
Prosecuting Attorney, detail how Sellers entered the bedroom of his mother, 32-year-old Vonda Bellofatto, and stepfather, 43-year-old Paul Lee Bellofatto, dressed in just his underwear and shot them both in the head.
In his own words written in his journal, Sellers claims after days of sleep deprivation, drug abuse and low moods he had carried out the double murder, a period of time he had no memory of until days later when he found himself inside a jail cell.
“I had taken my father’s .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,” he wrote.
In the years before his execution, sitting in a prison cell with death looming before him, he published his journal entries on a website set up by supporters to aid his case. About the murder of his mother and stepfather he wrote, “I wasn’t committing murder. I was removed an obstacle from my way. I was knocking down a door to a prison cage. All I felt, however, was coldness.”
After the murders he drove to his friend’s house, the same friend who was with him when he had shot and killed Robert Bowers six months earlier. Together they ‘discovered’ the dead bodies of Sellers’ parents the following morning. When police arrived and took both boys to the police station, Richard Howard told them of Sellers’ involvement in Bowers’ murder, as well as his friend arriving at his home the previous evening, telling him he had shot his parents.
It was the testimony of Richard Howard which provided the evidence against Sean Sellers in the murder of Robert Bowers. After initially being charged himself with first-degree murder in the relation to the shooting, Richard Howard’s charges were changed to a 5-year suspended sentence in exchange for his testimony against Sean Sellers for all three murders.
At trial in 1986, prosecutors presented Sean Sellers to the jury as an adult who needed to face the consequences of his actions, telling them, “He’s acted like a man, he’s going to have to stand up here like a man.” Sean Sellers, being 16-years-old at the time of the these murders, was not presented as a mitigating factor, nor was the defense allowed to bring in evidence to highlight the developmental and cognitive differences between juveniles and adults.
Sean Sellers’ defense at trial against these three murders was put forward as a ‘brainwashing’ through his practicing of Satanism. Testimony from experts and psychiatrists said Sellers was insane and did not know right from wrong and as a consequence, his ability to form the intent to murder was not there.
Amnesty International in their report “USA: Killing Hope: The Imminent Execution of Sean Sellers” detailed how the jury was only given two possible verdicts for Sean Sellers — they could simply find him guilty of murder in the first degree on three counts or find him innocent and acquit him. The option of manslaughter taking into account testimony from psychiatrists presented by the defense, that the development of Sean Sellers and his fixation and involvement in Satanism made him unable to form full intent for murder was not available to the jury, and they subsequently found him guilty on all three counts of murder. On 2 October 1986, the same jury gave Sean Sellers the death penalty for his crimes, confident that he was and would continue to be a significant risk to society if he was released from custody.
In the months after his conviction, Sean Sellers was diagnosed as ‘chronically psychotic’, with a diagnosis six years later of multiple personality disorder. These diagnoses formed the basis for numerous appeals against the death sentence for Sean Sellers, appeals which all failed mainly based on reasoning that such evidence of mental illness was not presented within his original trial.
“We all look for why something happened, and a 16-year-old boy ravaged with multiple personality disorder who was a good student at school and inexplicably committed these crimes… Something went wrong.”
Sean Sellers appeared to have spent his time behind bars analysing his beliefs, his motives, and his understandings emerging as a Christian and renouncing Satan. In confession letters, he wrote of his teenage attitudes, “I was mad at God, I didn’t 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.”
“Even if it’s a different me, it’s 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? – Sean Sellers
The case of Sean Sellers is a complex one. A 16-year-old boy who carried out three brutal and cold-hearted murders and 13 years later paid the ultimate price for his crimes. His post-conviction diagnoses highlight the development of his personality, his mental health, and his distorted thinking with a fixation onto Satanism circling in the center of this mix.
As his execution approached, now a 29-year-old man, he gained a great deal of support. Although it is agreed he must serve severe punishment for his actions, he should not be put to death for murders he committed as a 16-year-old boy.
His turnaround from Satanism to Christianity was welcomed by some and criticized by others. The debate over juvenile crime, appropriate punishment and the death penalty raged with the Sellers case and used as a case example. Amnesty International, the Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and the American Bar Association got publically involved in his case and called for clemency, all to no avail. On 5 February 1999, Sean Sellers was executed by lethal injection. He became the first person in 40 years in the United States to be put to death due to crimes committed as a juvenile and under the age of 17-years-old. As the poisons injected into his body to stop his heart and his breathing began to take hold, Sean Sellers announced those in attendance, “Here I come, Father. I’m coming home.”