Posted: Jan 3, 2014 3:06 PM
Updated: Jan 3, 2014 3:07 PM
HOUSTON (AP) Tommy Lynn Sells, a Texas death row inmate who's been linked to more than a dozen slayings and who's claimed to have committed dozens more around the country, has been set for execution April 3.
Alan Futrell, Sells' lead appeals attorney, said Friday that the execution date was "premature, we think," and said that an appeal would be sent to the U.S. Supreme Court this month.
"This is an old case, and we were kind of surprised when we got copy of the order," Futrell said. "We didn't have notice of the filing and just got a copy of it."
Sells was condemned for slashing the throats of two girls at a home near Del Rio in South Texas' Val Verde County in 1999. A 13-year-old, Kaylene Harris, was killed. Her 10-year-old friend, Krystal Surles, survived.
Sells has called himself "Coast to Coast," a reference to where the former drifter says he's committed murders.
The execution date was set last month by state District Court Judge Enrique Fernandez in Val Verde County.
"We're still working," Futrell said. "We're not through in the courts."
In July, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal for Sells and also refused a request for more than $60,000 to investigate evidence showing he should have received a sentence less than death.
Sells was condemned for the New Year's Eve 1999 attacks on the girls as they slept in a home near Del Rio, about 150 miles west of San Antonio. Authorities said Sells knew Harris' father through a church and had visited the home several times.
The survivor, Surles, had been visiting from Kansas at the time. From her hospital bed, she was able to help police put together a sketch of the attacker, which helped lead to Sells' arrest days later. She later would testify at Sells' capital murder trial, where jurors took just over an hour to convict him.
Futrell said Sells' legal team would ask the U.S. Supreme Court this month to review Sells' case and whether the help Sells received from attorneys at his trial and during earlier stages of his appeals was deficient.
Sells, an Oakland, Calif., native, worked as a barber, mechanic, laborer and carnival roustabout, hopping trains to get around the country.
Investigators have said he's confessed to using guns, knives, a bat, shovel, ice pick and his hands to commit more than a dozen murders and has claimed responsibility for 50 to 75 deaths. Some of those admissions, however, have not panned out. Besides in Texas, he's also been investigated for involvement in murders in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona and Nevada.
At his trial for the Del Rio attacks, his lawyers argued he was pressured by detectives to make the statements.
In 2003, he pleaded guilty to strangling a 9-year-old San Antonio girl, Mary Bea Perez, and accepted a life prison sentence. In 2005, he confessed to the 1987 slaying of Suzanne Korcz, 27, a hairdresser from Amherst, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo. He was not tried for that slaying because prosecutors said he already was on death row in Texas.
Prison records show Sells earlier served time in both Missouri and Wyoming for theft.