Warning: Graphic Excerpts From Tommy Lynn Sells' Transcripts

(Editor's note: This is an analysis by the UIS Downstate Illinois Innocence Project of an interview with convicted serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells. Please understand that the following excerpts are graphic and may not be suitable for all readers. The entire interview was more than 80 pages. The references to page numbers in this excerpt are four specific pages in that interview. In the interest of good taste, expletives have been edited.)

An analysis of TOMMY LYNN SELLS' Nov. 6, 2003 interview by State Appellate Prosecutor David Rands, ISP Sgt. Pea, and agent Phegley:

Sells admits killing Joel Kirkpatrick: 

Sells:  “You all haven’t ask this, but I will go ahead and tell you this.  Do I think, I’m the one that killed this kid?  Yes.  Now, I guess its, between us four, to prove that I did and I’m willing to do anything I can to help you all.  Now I don’t give a (expletive) about this woman [Julie]. . . Uh, if it wasn’t this kid I killed, then there’s a murder out there that, that, we still ain’t undug yet.”  (pp. 30-31). 

Sells knew the murder happened two days before the Oct. 15, 1997, Springfield, Missouri murder he committed of Stephany Mahaney. 

Sells:  “I said [to Diane Fanning] did that murder happen two days before the one in Missouri.  And her reply was yes.”  (p. 3). 

Sgt. Pea:  “Are you, are you positive this information goes along with the murder we’re looking at.”  

Sells:  “I know it goes along with a murder . . . like two days before the Springfield murder.” (pp. 59-60).

[Joel Kirkpatrick was killed Oct. 13, two days before the Mahaney murder].

Sells knew the murder happened in Illinois:

Sells:  “Now, I don’t even know for sure if this was even in Illinois, which I’m almost sure it was, I’m almost.”  (pp. 4-5).

Sells was accurate about traveling through small towns from St. Louis to get to Lawrenceville, not interstate highway: 

Rands:  “Like how, how, how did you travel around.”

Sells:  “Van, car, stolen vehicles, hitchhiking, train, bus, uh, truck.  Kind of like a gypsy, I . . . just up and go.” (p. 7).  “I remember going through several small towns.  I wasn’t running the interstate.”  (p. 29).

[Lawrenceville is not accessible by interstate highway. From St. Louis, Sells would have traveled along Highway 50 to Lawrenceville].

Sells was accurate about the crime occurring in the wee hours of the night:  

Sells:  “I remember seeing a woman at a convenience store . . . I followed the woman from the convenience store to, to a drive way she pulled into . . . And I hung around for several hours, till it come wee hours of the morning.”  (p. 4).  It was a convenience store that had gas pumps. (p. 10).

[The crime occurred at approximately 4:15 a.m.].

Sells gave accurate driving directions from the convenience store/gas station to Julie’s house: 

Sells:  “The red light, [at the convenience store] maybe, right and left, left.  He (sic) was there.” 

[At the intersection of old state route 50 and Highway 1 are two gas stations with convenience stores:  Speedway Marathon 1501 State St, and Amoco n/k/a BP Mach One Food Shop 1502 State Street.  This intersection is one of only three intersections in town controlled by a traffic light.   From both stations, one would turn right onto Highway 1, travel approximately 2 miles, and turn left into the subdivision, and would then make another  left turn to Julie’s house].

Sells was accurate about the house being built of brick. 

Sells:  “It was a brick and, and almost like two stories.”  (Emphasis added). 

Sells was accurate about the social class of the neighborhood: 

Sells:  “[U]pper white class.  It wasn’t ghetto.”  “It wasn’t lower white class either, it wasn’t trailer park.”  (p.11).  “… between what I would consider middle class to upper class . . . Nice homes.” (p. 33). 

[The neighborhood where Julie lived is upper middle-class].

Sells was accurate about Julie’s house being located in a subdivision off a main highway. 

Sells:  “It was, uh, off the main highway, well, I say main highway, main street into a, a, a, subdivision . . .”(p. 14).

[The subdivision is off Highway 1, the main street leading out of Lawrenceville].

Sells was accurate about a night light that allowed him to see inside the house.

At 3 a.m. Julie’s neighbor Vici Wimbley Mehaffey drove by the house and noticed a faint light on:  “I would say more like a night light.”  (Trial transcript 2/25/02 p. 8).

Sells:  Inside the house, “it wasn’t pitch dark, dark black . . . there was a light source, may, maybe, hell I don’t know what you’d call it.  You could see enough to get around in.” (p. 22).

Sells was accurate about taking the knife from a butcher block from a counter in the kitchen that contained other knives:

Sells:  “I remember the knife . . .  I remember that more than I remember anything else.  I remember, uh, uh, on the counter, I, I pulled . . . (p. 15).  “I want to say butcher block . . . a square thing.” (p. 44).

Murder weapon came from empty slot from butcher block.

Sells was accurate about using a knife that came from the victim's home:

Sells:  “Now, someone, someone did ask me, it’s unorthodox for me to go into a home without a weapon.  Well, uh, it’s not true the murder in Tennessee, Gibson Tennessee, I didn’t have weapons when I went in there.  Uh, I’ve been to several, uh, the Kentucky murder, I didn’t have uh, uh, weapons there.  I’ve been to more than one place that I

didn't bring a weapon to and use what I came upon." (P. 31).

Sells accurately described seeing a bar inside the kitchen;

Sells:  “I remember going through the kitchen door, coming into the kitchen, a bar (tape ends side A) . . . there was a thing that holds knives.  I picked one out.” (pp. 15-16).

Bar to left divides kitchen from dinning room.  Butcher block with knives is between stove and oven (right).

Sells accurately described finding the butcher block just as he entered the kitchen door:

Butcher block on counter next to stove.


Door from garage leads into kitchen (butcher block with knives is to left, not in view).

Sells said he went to the bedroom after passing through the kitchen.

Doorway in dinning room leads down hallway to bedroom.

Sells knew there was a "little corridor" leading to the bedroom: 

Sells:  “. . . it was down, down a little , down a little, down little uh, wasn’t a hall, was, was down a little corridor to the room, to the bed.”  (p. 19).

Walking from kitchen through dining room, a corridor leads back to the bedrooms, just as Sells described.  Sells would have had his back to the living room and would not have had a full view of the living room, explaining why he remembered seeing the big room as he exited the bedroom. 

(see interview transcript p. 20).

Sells recalled going down the corridor, the child's bedroom was to the left:

Rands:  “So like you made a right turn into the room and . . .”

Sells:  “Came this way to room.  Now is that left?” (p. 20).

From the bathroom door (open) straight ahead, one would make a left turn to go into Joel’s bedroom.  His mother’s room is to the right.

The baseball bat had been leaning against wall when Julie went to bed that night, is knocked over.  The handle, pointing away from bedroom, is consistent with having been knocked over as one fled from the bedroom.  The murder weapon can be seen in the distance, in front of the bathroom door. 

Sells gave an accurate description of Joel's bed being close to the wall: 

Phegley:  "Was the bed against the wall or was it . . ."

Sells:  “Close to it . . . No, no, it wasn’t in the middle of the room. . .” (pp. 45, 46).

Sells’ said a woman came into the room after he stabbed the boy, just as Julie said she did: 

Sells said he crouched down; consistent with Julie's statement that an intruder jumped up:

Sells said he heard something; Julie said she called Joel's name:

Sells said she came straight at him; Julie said she went straight into the room:

Sells:  [After he stabbed the boy] “I remember hearing something, and I was like, I like, scrouched down, kneeled down (inaudible) you know, vision straight on.  I like kneeled down and, and, and then this person and, and, I’m going almost bet my life on it, it was a woman had a little scuffle.  (p. 17).  

Sells said he kneeled down after stabbing the child; “Uh, this person, and I’m going to say it was a lady because I remember a night gown, a light colored night gown.  Uh comes at me straight on. And she almost runs over me . . . I know she didn’t see me.” (p. 21).

Julie:  “I heard something in the morning, um, a child scream, and it woke me up . . . I ran into his room and I turned and I looked at the bed and there was nothing there. And I said, Joel, Joel, and um, somebody was on the other side of the bed on the floor and they jumped up .   .  .” (p. 6). 

Sells recalled it being dark in the bedroom and no light being on; Julie did not flip on the light:

Rands:  “In that bedroom Tommy, was it, how did the light in the bedroom compare to the light in the rest of the house?”

Sells:  “Dimmer.”

Rands:  “It was darker in there than it was in the rest of the house?”

Sells:  “Yes, yes.”

Rands:  “And if I remember this right, you were saying, the rest of the house you could like see, but it wasn’t bright.”

Sells:  “Yes.”

Rands:  “Do you remember any of the lights being on in the house?”

Sells:  “It, it might have been from a light source outside coming through the window.  That I was navigating by.”  (pp. 46, 47).

Julie:  “No, I didn’t turn any lights on . . . I just ran straight in there.”  (p. 13).

In the bedroom, Sells said the woman tried to grip him; just as Julie described:

Sells:  “I, I, remember fingernails, like, trying to like, grip me. (p. 23).

Julie:  ”I thought Joel had like gone crazy like he had a nightmare . . .And this person tried to get away from me and I wouldn’t let him because I didn’t know.  I couldn’t see Joel.  And so I grabbed him and, um, they really moved fast and they were much stronger than I thought Joel would be.” (p. 6).  “I know that I tried to grab the person.” (p. 26).

When he encountered her in the bedroom Sells said there was no punching-he backhanded the woman; the same description Julie gave to police:

Sells:  “There wasn’t no punching.  I think I, I, I backhanded her.  And, and, and, then I was out of there.”  “The, the scuffle was just as brief as that.” (p. 23). 

Julie: “[H]e was trying to get away from me . . . He started hitting me . . . like he was slapping at me or hitting me like this . . .  I mean I don’t know how people fight and stuff I only know my experience (inaudible) but when my ex-husband hit me it was very [hard] . . . This wasn’t like that.”


Sgt. Pea: "Like you're getting slapped at or something like that instead of being punched?"


Julie:  “Yeah like they just wanted me to leave ‘em alone and get off of them . .  .” (pp. 18-19). 

Sells was accurate about leaving the murder weapon behind, having dropped it during the struggle.

Sgt. Pea:  “[W]hy did you just let her go, after you just . . .?” 

Sells:  “Didn’t have the knife, just don’t know what happened to it.” (p. 31). “I, I’ve asked myself this over and over, why didn’t the hell I didn’t stab her, I didn’t have a knife then.  That’s the only answer I can give.”  “. . . run into her had no knife.” (p. 22).

Julie:  “She did not see a knife.”   (Phegley report, interview of Julie 10/13/97, p. 2).

Sells said his only thought was to get away; Julie told police he acted like he wanted to get away:

Sells: “I was more concerned with leaving . . . my element of surprise was gone, so I needed to make an exit.” (p. 64). 

Julie:  “And this person tried to get away from me and I wouldn’t let him . . .” (p. 6) “I got the feeling he wanted to get away from me the whole time.”  (p. 18).

When he encountered her in the bedroom Sells said the woman didn't scream; Julie said she tried to calm him down.

Sells:  “There was no screaming and there was no, no uh, yelling, no uh, I don’t remember saying nothing.  (p. 64). 

Julie:  “I know I was trying to talk to [him] to calm [him] down.  I still was trying to figure out if it was Joel or who it was or what was happening and so I was like trying to get them to stay and to settle down.”  (p. 25).

Sells accurately described the interior of the house, he knew there was a big living room as he fled from Joel's bedroom: 

Sells:  "I come out the same way I come in, but, there's a bigger room coming out cause I would say almost like a front room, sitting room." (p. 20).

Sells described hitting Julie, consistent with physical injuries that were inflicted on her.

These injuries corroborate that an intruder attacked Julie.

After the initial struggle in the bedroom, Sells and Julie both recalled another struggle near the dining room knocking her to the floor. 

During the struggle, Julie recalls that he was bent down; Sells described being bent down and she ran into him:

Phegley:  “Tommy, about after you left that bedroom and went down toward that big room where you crouched down and that’s where she ran into you and you had a bit of a struggle there, uh, and you did say that she followed you outside the house.  And when you hit her, you said that she might of went, might have knocked her down.”

Sells:  “Both times  . .  . [both inside and outside the house he knocked her to the ground] When she, when she stumbled over me [in the big room] I think she went down on one knee then and then I came up and when I came up I like, dragged her . . .”

During the struggle Julie said she grabbed hold of his leg; just as Sells described:

Phegley:  “[A]s this person was leaving the house . . . what were you doing, I mean how you were doing that throughout the house until you got outside?”

Julie:  “I, I don’t remember now.  I know I had to chase him for a little bit like he really took off fast and I know at least once I grabbed him and I think that something happened like around the dinning room/kitchen area. . . Like we wrestled there for a minute or something.”  (pp. 13, 14).  “And they were bent down lower than me and I was on the right side and I was trying to pull ‘em back. . .I was laying down and I grabbed at their legs. (p. 7).  “I just wouldn’t let go.  Like I said I grabbed his legs and feet and stuff and he wouldn’t quit” (p. 20).

In the backyard, Sells accurately stated there was a light source that lit up the back of the house; a security light was mounted on a pole in back of Julie's house.

Phegley:  “. . . where you had the altercation outside the house, was it dark there then, where that took place?”

Sells:  “More light than there was on the inside.”

Phegley:  “Do you know where the light was coming from, maybe was it moonlight or you don’t know?”

Sells:  “No . . . was it natural light, street light, no, I know it was little bit more light than usual.”  (p. 68).

Sell accurately described Julie's hair color:

Rands:  “Do you remember what this woman looked like . . . The one that made you mad?”

Sells:  “Blonde . . . brownish blonde. . .” (p. 10).

Taken at the hospital on the morning of the murder, this photo shows Julie with blondish brown hair.

Julie had rug burns on her knees, as one witness Nancy Seed, described, consistent with having been down on one knee and dragged by the assailant:

Sells and Julie both said she pursued him outside to the back of the house where he knocked her down to the ground.

Sgt. Pea:  "And what was she doing when you saw her last?"

Sells:  “Trying to get at me again . . . I hit her and I, I yes I remember seeing her fall. . . at the back of the house.” (p. 41).

Outside the house Sells described increasing the intensity of his attack wanting to kill her; Julie also described the intensity increasing and felt he wanted to kill her:

Sgt. Pea:  “[Y]]ou said you back handed her, did that stop her then from pursuing you any further?”


Sells:  “Uh, no, she, for a mi, for a moment, momentarily.”

Sgt. Pea:  "You stunned her?"

Sells:  “Yeah, I guess.  If that’s what you call it, uh, yeah.  I was gone and then she come after me again, chased me and then I like to turned around and I said all right (expletive).  I’m going to kill you.  And then I, I, I think I hit her.  Um, I can’t tell you what happened next cause I’m not, I’m not for sure.  I’m, I’m, I think I hit her, more scuffle, uh.”  (pp. 23-24). (Emphasis added).

Julie:  “I mean I never got the feeling that he wanted to kill me until the very end when I thought he was gonna.  .  . He started hitting me and I, I thought, I just didn’t understand the switch. (p. 18).  (Emphasis added).

Sells said at the time of the crime he was very thin build, 5'-7"; Julie described the assailant as being thin build between 5'7" and 5'11":

Sells:  “Thin, Thin . . . One-fifty, one-forty.  I was in my drug days.”  (p. 70).

Julie:  Described the man as “thin” between 5’-7” and 5’-11.” (Phegley report, interview of Julie 10/13/97, p. 2).

Sells accurately described Julie as thin:

Sgt. Pea:  “[Was she] Thin, medium or heavy?”

Sells:  “Thin, thin.” (p. 70).

The bandage on Julie's arm above the elbow covers a deep gash that required five sutures to close.

Both Sells and Julie had cut themselves during the struggle going out of the house:

Sgt. Pea:  “Did, did you get cut whenever you were. . .”

Sells:   “Yes . . . I don’t know, if this happened in the house, out of the house, when I was getting back in my van, when I was running . . . but I snagged my, my hand on something . . . from, from, time after the bedroom incident to I get back to my van, my hand had a cut on it.  Right there.” 

Pea:  “That’s your left thumb you’re showing me?” (emphasis added).

Sells:  “Yeah, yep.  Still got the scar there.”  (p. 47)

Sells:  “Now, from inside the house to my van, somewhere between I snagged it on something.  When I was going around something, I, I, I don’t know.  I know, I guess I cut my thumb.  I do remember that.”  (p. 48).

Julie:  “She did not see a knife.  She believed the cut on her was from glass.” (Phegley report, interview of Julie 10/13/97, p. 2).

Julie’s audio-taped statement:  “I couldn’t make ‘em stop and um, at the back door going into the garage there was like they had to get out . . . And that back door sticks and they couldn’t get it open, but they were real sure of what they were trying to do and real focused on it.  They took their left elbow I believe it was and just broke the glass with open and I thought you shouldn’t do that that’s dangerous . . .”  (pp. 6-7).

Back storm door leads into the garage Julie described the assailant breaking with his left elbow. Crime scene investigators determined that the glass was broken from the inside, corroborating Julie’s account.

Phegley:  “When you said earlier that the, the door sticks, whenever you go out, that’s the door that goes from the garage to the outside.”

Julie:  “Yes.”

Phegley:  “Are you talking about the storm door or the wooden door or?

Julie:  “The storm door.  The wooden door was already open.”  (p. 10).

The wooden door had been painted that weekend by Julie’s father and was kept open to prevent the paint from sealing the door shut.  Sells gained entry through this back door.

Kitchen door looking in from garage.  Crime scene investigators confirm glass was broken from inside going out.  Julie thought she had locked this interior door before going to bed, but was not certain.

Sells remembered breaking a window from the kitchen door:  (p. 13).

There are several details that Sells does not accurately remember six years after the crime.  His memory, clouded by years of drug and alcohol abuse, and the confusion that comes from having committed so many brutal and senseless murders, is understandably imperfect as to some of the minor details he is asked to recall.

Sells:  “I’m not being much help am I.”

Sgt. Pea:  “Certainly, and you know we understand this was, this is 2003 and that was 1997, six years ago, I’m not sure if I could describe some stuff.  What I did on a specific date six years ago.  (p. 72).