Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Tommy Lynn Sells

Still Under Scrutiny

An accurate accounting of the murders committed by Tommy Lynn Sells may never be possible. Although he is unlikely to face trial again, his name continues to crop up in court documents across the country.

In 2003 Sells pleaded guilty to capital murder for slaying 9-year-old Mary Bea Perez at the San Antonio Fiesta. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors waived the death penalty, and Sells automatically received a sentence of life in prison.

Also that year he was indicated in Missouri in the 1997 strangulation death of Stephanie Mahaney, 13, near Springfield.

In April 2004, police in Lockport, N.Y., officially notified survivors of a murder victim there that Sells likely was responsible.

Suzanne Korcz, 28, disappeared in May 1987 after she stormed out of a Lockport bar following a quarrel with her boyfriend. Her skeletal remains were found eight years later at the base of an escarpment in Lockport, near Niagara Falls.

The details of the homicide are unclear, but Sells confessed in 2002 that he was responsible for the long-unsolved murder. Authorities said he gave details that lead them to believe he was telling the truth, including a description of the victim.

He is being scrutinized in the murders of a woman and her daughter in St. Louis is 1983 and the rape and gunshot slayings of a farm wife and daughter in Portageville, Mo., in 1998.

And Sells is at the center of a wrongful-conviction allegation in Illinois.

Julie & Joel Harper
Julie & Joel Harper

Julie Rea-Harper was sentenced to 65 years in prison in 2002 following conviction by a jury for the 1997 stabbing death of her son, Joel Kirkpatrick, 10.

Joel Kirkpatrick, victim
Joel Kirkpatrick, victim

Prosecutors alleged that Rea-Harper killed the boy in her home in Lawrenceville, in downstate Illinois, after she lost custody of him to his father as a result of a contentious divorce.

In May 2004, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School took up the cause, saying courts should grant a new trial because Sells wrote two coy letters indicating he may know something about the case. Others have joined in the call for a new trial for the woman, who has continued to proclaim her innocence.

Young Kirkpatrick was killed just two days before Stephanie Mahaney, and the murder scenes were less than 100 miles apart.

The issue is whether Sells can be trusted. If his victims were able, they might advise: Don't bet your life on it.

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