January 28, 1999
No one should be executed for crimes committed as a minor. The rest of the world has renounced this appalling practice. The United States should too.
Lois Whitman, Executive Director of the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch called on Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to grant clemency for Sean Sellers, who was sentenced to death for murders committed when he was sixteen years old.

"No one should be executed for crimes committed as a minor," said Lois Whitman, Executive Director of the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "The rest of the world has renounced this appalling practice. The United States should too."

While only nine executions of juvenile offenders are known to have occurred outside of the United States since 1990, Sellers' execution would bring the U.S. total for this period to ten. In addition, if the death sentence is carried out, Sellers will become the first person since 1959 to be executed in the United States for a crime committed as a sixteen year old.

Human Rights Watch noted that all juvenile offenders executed by the United States last year --two in Texas and one in Virginia -- were not only minors at the time of their crime, but also reportedly suffered from brain damage and were border-line mentally retarded. In none of the cases was this information fully presented to the juries at trial.

Medical experts have diagnosed Sean Sellers with severe mental illness. A U.S. Court of Appeals acknowledged "uncontested clinical evidence" that Sellers suffers from multiple personality disorder, but upheld his sentence on narrow procedural grounds.

"No civilized society can accept the execution of a person who was a child at the time he committed his crimes and who was -- and remains -- afflicted with a mental disorder," said Human Rights Watch in a letter to Governor Keating. "Such an execution offends the most basic principles of international justice and morality."

The execution of individuals for crimes committed before age eighteen is specifically prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by the United States and more than 125 other countries, as well as by the nearly-universally ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since 1990, the only other countries known to have executed juvenile offenders are Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

For More Information:
Michael Bochenek (212) 216-1245
Lois Whitman(212) 216-1239
Allyson Collins (202) 371-6599 x 133