Skip to comments.Victim's Half-Sister Wants Killers Freed
Posted on 12/08/2007 12:47:44 PM PST by lionstar
HOPKINS, Mich. (AP) There's not much left to remember Robert Sellon by. A single, wallet-sized photo tucked into a framed collage. Old newspaper clippings. Many, many memories. But Tammi Smith doesn't let go easily. Nearly 26 years after her half brother was murdered, she can still mimic the way he smiled, the way he talked. And she recounts what must have happened the night he was beaten to death in a Grand Rapids pool hall.
The men convicted of killing him have entrusted her with the details.
"I've got letter after letter that says if they could do things differently, if they could trade places with my brother, they would," Smith says, "and I know that's not just pencil on paper."
The story of how Smith made her peace with the twin brothers convicted of her half brother's slaying captures the difficult choices inherent in the debate over sentencing youth offenders to life without parole.
It began in October 1981. Sellon was closing the Golden Eight Ball long past midnight. David and Michael Samel, 17-year-old twins, were the last customers inside. They followed Sellon downstairs, intent on robbing him. When he fought back, investigators said, the Samels beat and strangled him with a hammer and nunchucks. Over the years, each brother has put principal blame on the other.
Michael Samel pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 35 to 55 years in prison. David Samel was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to life without parole.
Tammi Smith was 15 at the time of the murder. Soon after, she went to the county jail where David Samel was being held, and cursed him for destroying her family. Then she tried to forget.
But six years ago, Smith and her sister realized it wouldn't be long before Michael Samel came up for parole. They wondered if he had changed. By then Smith was a born-again Christian, newly reflective on the importance of forgiveness.
She sat down and wrote Michael Samel a letter.
He wrote back; later, his brother wrote, too. Over time, Smith and the men convicted of her brother's murder began talking regularly, sending each other birthday and Christmas cards.
Those conversations convinced Smith her brother's killers were not monsters but two men who, as teenagers, had made a terrible mistake, their judgment clouded by drugs and immaturity.
"Sending these guys to prison for the rest of their lives is not going to bring my brother back," she says. "It's been 25 years, 26 almost. I just think how much more punishment does it need to be? What good is going to come out of this?"
That argument largely echoes one by David Samel, serving life at Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility. Still, he can't quite make sense of Smith's forgiveness.
"I've got to tell you that sometimes I can't get my head around that whole thing," he says. "She's got a beautiful heart."
Smith isn't kidding herself. Many people can't fathom her point of view. That's evident when she and her church group go to visit prisons and find even inmates are skeptical. But she hasn't given up trying to persuade them.
To make her case, Smith lays three photos side by side Robert Sellon's, along with David and Michael Samel's and asks people to pick out the one of her brother.
"Well, all three of them are," she explains. "I may have lost one, but I gained two more."
I am so sick of hearing that old tired cliche! They were not put in jail with the intent of bringing your brother back, They were put in jail because they're receiving exactly what they deserve!!
Frankly, it’s not her right to determine whether the monsters who clubbed her half brother to death get out of jail free. And, she is damned arrogant to think that it is. If she wants to be a bleeding-heart do-gooder, she can do as she pleases. But, society has the right — and the responsibility — to keep the miscreants behind bars where they belong. Jesus can love them (and vice versa) just as well there as back out on the streets.
When someone wrongly takes an innocent life, they forfeit their right to live. It is immoral to do otherwise.
God will forgive them if they truly repent, but they still have their debt to pay to us.
Actually, they are sent to jail to protect the public. Unfortunately, it does not protect other inmates nor prison guards and staff. And as along as they are breathing, they could be released to kill again. The only way to completely protect the public is to execute convicted murderers. The victim’s family may be willing to risk it, but I am not willing to risk my life, nor the lives of my family and friends.
We've probably ALL done majorly stupid things as teenagers, but beating someone to death isn't one of them.
The woman deciding to forgive them is one thing, but to embrace them as "brothers" is disturbing.
Thank you! “Beating someone to death is NOT one of the stupid things we’ve done” — a truly, even with clouded brain.
She was not the victim, therefore, it is not her place and her right to forgive someone else’s killers.
So warm and fuzzie, I'm gonna puke. Who is she to dispense forgiveness for a fatal offense committed on someone else?
Although it is good of her to forgive her brother’s killers, she is not the person who put them on trial for the murder, and she was not the one who imposed the punishment. That was society as a whole, through the courts, and I believe the punishment should stand.
I hate to say it but I and others I know have remarked on this foolish strain of Christianity which goes beyond spiritual forgiveness or moving on, to actual REAL forgiveness and embracing and apologia of and for killers who are often master manipulators.
It’s not for her to decide, as she was not the ACTUAL victim and frankly she poorly represents half-siblings throughout the country by calling her brother’s killers “brothers.”
This story argues rather strongly in favor of the death penalty. We shouldn’t be having this conversation about these two punks.
Forgiveness is divine, and it is also entirely separate from the need to keep killers locked up so they don’t have a chance to kill MY brother, or anyone else, again. Same with child molesters, rapists, murders, etc. Go ahead and forgive them but don’t give them further opportunity for repeat performance (not to mention encouragement to other would-be criminals who correctly assess the risk as minimal).
“Sending these guys to prison for the rest of their lives is not going to bring my brother back,”
It won’t bring her brother back, but it may save you or your brother
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