SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CN) – A federal judge denied habeas corpus relief to a serial killer who received the death penalty after one young victim survived to testify as an eyewitness.
Tommy Lynn Sells admitted to slashing the throats of 13-year-old Kaylene Harris and 11-year-old Krystal Surles with a butcher knife on Dec. 31, 1999.
With the knife in tow, Sells had climbed in through a bedroom window at the Harris home. He confessed to molesting Kaylene before killing her.
Krystal survived her injuries and made her way to a neighbor’s house where she found help.
A jury in Val Verde County, Texas, convicted Sells of the capital murder of Kaylene and gave him the death penalty in September 2000.
Sells appealed, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected his petition for writ of certiorari.
Sells applied for federal habeas corpus relief in August 2006 amid his three failed attempts for relief at the state level.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia dismissed Sells’ petition for federal habeas corpus last week.
Garcia rejected Sells’ claim that the trial court violated his Eighth and 14th Amendment rights by barring admission of a videotape of the administrative segregation housing facilities at a Texas prison during the sentencing phase of his trial.
“As the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals pointed out, petitioner did not accompany the proffered videotape with any evidence showing the information contained thereon addressed the petitioner’s individual circumstances or how the petitioner might be handled if incarcerated for ‘life,'” the 290-page order states.
Garcia added that, “the petitioner’s trial counsel’s and expert’s arguments implicitly suggesting the videotape accurately reflected the conditions under which petitioner would likely spend the bulk of a ‘life sentence’ were, at best, highly speculative and, at worst, factually erroneous.”
Sells’ various claims regarding the questioning of potential jurors fell short, as did his claims concerning the instructions given to the jury, ineffective counsel, and the Texas capital sentencing scheme.
Garcia found that many of Sells’ complaints were unexhausted at the state level, resulting in procedural defaults.
Sells added evidence of fetal alcohol syndrome to his list of alleged shortcomings on the part of his counsel.
“In all reasonable probability, the brutal facts of petitioner’s offense were simply too compelling to be overcome by a naked emotional appeal for mercy premised upon meager evidence showing petitioner’s mother drank a few screwdrivers in 1964 while pregnant with petitioner and his twin sister,” Garcia wrote. “The evidence regarding petitioner’s fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects presented by petitioner to this court is, at best, clearly double-edged in nature because it necessarily led to a conclusion that petitioner would forever be unable to control his aggressive, anti-social, impulses and would never be able to learn from his mistakes.” Garcia denied Sells a certificate of appealability.