News of the Day ... in Perspective4/18/2005
Charles Thomas Sell, D.D.S., to be released on Alford plea
After nearly eight months in federal prison without trial, Dr. Tom Sell pleaded no contest to federal charges of fraud and conspiracy to kill a federal agent. U.S. District Judge Donald Stohr sentenced him to time served and ordered him to spend 6 months in a halfway house and 3 years on parole.
The plea, accepted rarely in federal court and only with the approval of the highest levels of the Department of Justice, does not require the defendant to admit guilt. He must concede that prosecutors may have enough evidence to cause a jury to convict him.
Federal prosecutors charged Sell with conspiring to kill a witness and an FBI agent, on the basis of a tape acquired by an undercover agent. The agent visited Sell in jail and prodded him to say something about hiring a hit man.
Sell, however, was apparently talking about breaking into the agent’s home or office to acquire evidence that his dental assistant Jane Alderman, the key government witness, was lying. She claims he threatened her by pointing a finger in the shape of a gun at her. He claims he never saw Ms. Alderman that day.
During most of the eight years in prison, the government asserted that he was incompetent to stand trial. Dr. Sell fought the forcible administration of psychoactive drugs all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Prison psychiatrists stated that Dr. Sell was delusional, partly because he believed the U.S. government engaged in a conspiracy concerning the fire at the Branch Davidian settlement in Waco, Texas, which killed 81 people. Dr. Sell produced Army records proving that he had indeed been sent to Waco in the days leading up to the fire. He believed the reason was to help identify charred remains.
Another reason that Dr. Sell was said not to be ready for trial was his preoccupation with abuse at the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Judge Stohr has refused to release the videotapes that purportedly show the abuse.
Last year, Dr. Sell said that the case had destroyed him. He lost his dental business, retirement funds, and home. “I have nothing to go back to,” he has said (Carolyn Tuft, St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4/15/05).