An eerie calm hangs over death row at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where Sean Sellers, 17, passes his days penciling poems and reflections in a spiral notebook. The youngest among 66 condemned men, Sellers looks more schoolboy than savage killer: Affable, intelligent, self-absorbed, he could be just another sandy-haired teenager on the cusp of manhood. But the seeming innocence belies a past as lurid as anything ever invented by horrormeister Stephen King. When he killed a convenience store clerk, when he murdered his own mother and stepfather as they slept, he was, he says, paying homage to Satan.
Until recently, Sellers denied the killings—to others and, he insists, to himself. Throughout his trial in September he was silent, entering a plea of not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and swearing to his lawyer that he couldn’t recall the crimes. He did, however, freely discuss his infatuation with the devil, and his lawyers argued in court that being in the thrall of Satan constitutes insanity. The members of the jury saw it differently and he was convicted on all three counts. “We thought he knew right from wrong,” said one. Another added, “If that verdict saves one kid from Satanism, or saves one other person from getting killed, then it’s justified.”
The sentence is death, and Sean Sellers has recently come to side with the court’s judgment. With the trauma of the trial and a jailhouse return to Christianity behind him, Sellers says that his memory has come back, and now, for the first time, he can admit that he has taken three lives. “I’m having a hard time dealing with the guilt,” he says, “but I have to tell the truth about what Satanism can do.”
In 1972, when Sean was 3, his mother, Vonda, a wholesome-looking blonde, had been divorced from husband Rick for 18 months. When she quit town looking for work, she left her only child with a succession of relatives. In 1976 she married mechanic Paul Bellofatto, but things didn’t change for Sean: The two found work driving a truck cross-country and often left the boy in the care of family members. He never complained, but he seemed to develop a painful sense of rejection. “I think he resented his mother from the time he was little because she left him alone,” says Debbie Crenshaw, Vonda’s sister.
An exceedingly bright student, the boy took comfort in reading. At first science fiction and tales of the supernatural were his staples; later, a babysitter introduced him to books about Satanism, and he found himself attracted to the occult. When as a 12-year-old he discovered the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, it fueled his darkening fantasies.
To the adults who knew him, Sean’s slide from well-mannered child to sullen adolescent was all but inexplicable. Even from a distance, though, his peripatetic parents always maintained strict control. “[They thought] Sean was never good enough…They demanded more from him than any kid could give,” says Vonda’s father, Jim Blackwell. “He was a timid, beaten-down kid who had a need to be accepted. I can look back now and see where he was susceptible to anything.”
Being constantly uprooted must have exacerbated Sean’s sense of isolation. He was in the seventh grade and living with Vonda and Paul in a suburb of Oklahoma City when he forged his first close friendship. Richard Howard was, in some ways, Sean’s spiritual doppelganger. Raised by his grandparents, he shared Sellers’ passion for Dungeons & Dragons and became his teammate on the football, track and weight lifting squads. “We were each other’s shadows,” Richard says now.
In the summer of 1983, the Bellofattos moved to Greeley, Colo., where Paul had found a new job, and Sean left his soul mate behind. Sellers’ unhappiness was eased by a summer romance with a girl he met at church camp. When his girlfriend severed the relationship that winter, Sean thought of killing himself, then turned to Satanism for solace. “I was mad at God,” he says. In his journal he wrote, “Deep down I want power…the unruling [sic] power of the supernatural.”
In March 1984 Sean faced another upheaval: Vonda and Paul returned to cross-country driving and deposited their troubled son with Vonda’s sister Debbie in Okmulgee, Okla. Confronted by yet another new school, Sean didn’t bother to fit in. Instead he drank and studied demonology. On a visit to Colorado, Sean and another friend conducted a candle-lit satanic baptism of a third youth. Cloaked in black, equipped with a silver chalice and a ritual sword, the two dressed their acolyte in a white sheet and “commanded him to strip,” Sean says. “Then we cut him, drank his blood and [used it to] write a dedication to Satan.”
When Vonda and Paul reassembled the family in Oklahoma City in the fall of 1984, their son was elated. Reunited with Richard, he introduced him to Satanism and found a handful of new friends willing to explore the occult. By February 1985 he was ready to dedicate his life to the powers of darkness. In a solitary ceremony in his bedroom, he lit candles, burned incense and wrote in his own blood, “I renounce God, I renounce Christ, I will serve only Satan…Hail Satan.”
By this time Vonda and Paul had taken note of the transformation. Sean slipped from the high honor roll, he lost his interest in sports, and he abandoned his clean-cut look for a scruffy, semi-Rambo style. At first they explained it away as adolescent eccentricity. His fascination with the Japanese assassin rites of ninjutsu, they reasoned, was a way of aping Paul, a former Vietnam Green Beret. But when teachers discovered Sean’s satanic bible—and a search of his bedroom revealed his altar devoted to the black arts—Paul lashed out at Sean, telling him, “You do not exist!”
“After he said that,” Sean remembers, “I went in my room, and the Satanic books were calling to me.”
Vonda tried desperately to talk to her son, but Sean was intractable, saying only that she wasn’t trying to understand him. She wrote to a cousin, “Why my complete destruction is so important I don’t know, unless it’s because Satan knows I don’t intend to give him up without a fight. To be honest I’m scared, but I’m reading the Bible and praying for help….”
To pacify his mother, Sean went once to Bible study and also met with a Catholic priest. Yet his devotion to demon worship never faltered. At school he flaunted his allegiance to Satan: In biology lab, he ate the leg off a live frog; he always carried a small vial of fresh blood, and he made a show of drinking from it in the lunchroom.
Sean found kindred spirits at an occult bookstore and midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Satanists, he says, are easily recognizable by their “evil taint,” but Sean further identified himself by a symbolic dress code: He wore his left shirtsleeve rolled up and kept his left pinkie fingernail long, sharpened and painted black.
In the months before his first murder—which consummated his effort to break all 10 biblical commandments—Sean became consumed by Satanist ritual. With Richard and the eight or so members of their ad hoc coven, he took over an abandoned farmhouse and used it as a place of worship. “We were always cutting each other and drinking the blood,” he says. “I was like a vampire.” At home Sean kept a cache of blood-filled vials hidden in his parents’ refrigerator.
Sean compiled a grimoire—a manual for invoking demons and the spirits of the dead. He stayed up all night poring over satanic tracts and performing rites—using amphetamines to stay awake, and alcohol and marijuana to calm himself down. As the sleeplessness, self-hypnosis and marathon rituals continued, Sean began suffering from blackouts. A demonic alter ego which he called Ezurate emerged, and the youth says he often lost track of his own actions.
On Sept. 8, 1985, Sean says he and Richard prepared themselves for the ultimate act of fealty. After a sacrificial ritual, Richard—as Sean remembers it—stole his grandfather’s .357 Magnum, and the two drove to a convenience store in search of Robert Bower, a clerk who once refused to sell them beer. When Sean aimed the gun, fired and missed, Bower “was terrified. I guess he looked in my eyes and knew I was going to kill him.” Sean fired again, wounding Bower, who then ran to the back of the store. Richard blocked him. “Richard yelled, ‘Do it!’ I fired and the guy fell…” says Sean.
After the murder, explains Sean, “I plunged into Satanism with everything I had ’cause that had opened a new portal.” In the following weeks his psychic frenzy intensified. While working as a bouncer at a teenage nightclub, he fell in love with a 15-year-old named Angel. “First Ezurate was attracted to her sexuality. Then Sean really started to love her,” he remembers. “I was obsessed with Satanism and Angel.”
Paul and Vonda disapproved, and they forbade Sean to see her. He resisted and ran away. His parents brought him home, but he was wretchedly unhappy. A plan to join his natural father in California fell apart, and Paul and Vonda refused to let him live with Richard and his new wife, Tracey.
Sean’s increasingly bizarre belief system was codified in a composition he wrote for English class last February. “Satanism made me a better person,” he wrote. “I am free. I can kill without remorse…” Alarmed, his teacher telephoned Vonda, who immediately poured out her concern in a six-page letter to her son. It said, in part, “I’ll always love you…I’ll always be here when you need me…until the day I die.”
Sean never saw Vonda’s letter. That evening he spoke to his parents only briefly. After returning from the pizza parlor where he worked part-time, he began his nightly devotions: Taking off his clothes, he put on black underwear and a black hooded cape. He lit candles and incense, poured blood into the chalice on the makeshift altar and began an invocation. At some point, Sean says, he slept. When he awoke he found Paul’s .44 revolver in his own room. From there it was only a matter of tiptoeing into his parents’ bedroom with the stealth of a ninjutsu assassin. “My heart started beating fast, and then everything went calm,” Sean now recalls. “I pointed the gun at my dad’s head and fired. I pointed the gun at my mom’s head and fired.”
Afterwards Sean crawled into his white pickup and started driving. He eventually found himself at Richard’s house and told him what he had done. Richard stashed the gun in an air vent, and his visitor went to sleep.
It was Sean who “discovered” the bodies the next day. With Richard and Tracey, he went to his parents’ house—ostensibly to get his mother to write a note excusing his tardiness at school. He went inside and came out crying. “There’s all this blood!” he screamed, and ran to a neighbor’s house to call an ambulance.
Few of his relatives were misled. “We all had the same instinct,” says his aunt Debbie Crenshaw. “We had a feeling he had done it, but we didn’t know why.”
At the suggestion of Vonda’s father, the Oklahoma City police pressed Richard for evidence against Sean. When he was arrested, Sean declared, “If I killed them, I don’t know it.” He sobbed uncontrollably when Vonda’s letter to him was read aloud in court. “I loved my parents,” he insisted. Richard, who was originally charged with murder, testified for the prosecution at Sean’s trial. He swore that Sean stole the gun and that he waited outside the store and played no part in the crime. In return for his testimony Richard received a five-year deferred sentence for being an accessory after the fact.
In his death row cell, Sean has long hours in which to reconstruct the crimes that he committed in the name of Satan—and to reflect on his sojourn in a psychic hell. “I thought I would be [set] free because I didn’t think I was guilty. But when I got the death penalty, I wanted to know why,” he says. “I kept meditating and thinking, going back in time and then forward again bit by bit. When I hit a blank spot, I forced myself to remember. I think now I was two people—Sean and Ezurate.”
Ironically he has re-embraced Christianity with much the fervor he brought to worshiping Satan. Spiritually reborn, he holds no malice toward the friend who bore witness against him. “I love Richard,” he says. His lawyers are appealing the death sentence, but Sean seems resigned to it. “Now that I remember all this, of course I want to die. But the Lord has given me a burden to reach out and help other people so no one else will follow in my footsteps.”