NORTHEAST OKLAHOMA — Until a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring it unconstitutional to execute juveniles, three Oklahoma and Missouri juvenile offenders were executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a national non-profit organization.
These executions weren’t during the frontier days or vigilante justice, the three inmates were put to death in the past 30 years. Those executed were:
- Frederick Lashley, Missouri, 1993
- Sean Richard Sellers, Oklahoma, 1999
- Scott Hain, Oklahoma, 2003
Between 1976, when the death penalty was reestablished, and 2005, 22 juvenile offenders have been executed, according to a 32-page report, “The Death Sentences and Executions for Juvenile Crimes.”
The 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said executing juvenile offenders was cruel and unusual punishment and the ruling affected 72 juvenile offenders still on death row at the time, according to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, an independent, nonpartisan, publication.
According to published reports, Lashley and Hain committed their crimes when they were 17 years old and Sellers was 16. All were executed by lethal injection and at the time of their deaths were in their 20s and 30s.
Lashley was the youngest person on Missouri’s death row when convicted in 1981, of killing Janie Tracy, a relative who had been caring for him since he was 2 years old. Lashley clubbed the elderly woman over the head with a cast iron skillet splitting the skillet in two pieces, according to published reports.
Sellers was the first, and remains the only, person executed for a crime committed under the age of 17 since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. He was convicted of the 1985 and 1986 murders of Robert Bower, an Oklahoma City convenience store clerk and the slayings of his mother, Vonda Bellofatto, and stepfather, Lee Bellofatto.
Sellers said of Bower’s death that he did it “just to see what it feels like to kill someone,” according to published reports.
Hain was the last person executed in the United States for crimes committed as a juvenile. He was convicted of carjacking an automobile in Tulsa occupied by Michael Houghton and Laura Sanders. Lambert robbed the couple and placed them in the trunk of the car that he set on fire.
Juvenile Execution Historical Facts
According to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange:
- The first documented execution of a juvenile was 16-year-old Thomas Granger, who died in 1642 by hanging in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. He was convicted of bestiality.
- The youngest girl to be executed was Hannah Ocuish, a 12-year-old Native American girl. In 1786, Ocuish was hanged in Connecticut for murdering a 6-year-old white girl.
- In 1885, James Arcene, 23, a Cherokee Indian, was hanged in Arkansas for a robbery and murder he helped commit when he was 10 years old.
- While those executions occurred during pre-Colonial and Colonial times, a 14-year-old African American boy was electrocuted in 1944 in South Carolina. George Stinney Jr. was put to death for the slayings of two white girls.
- In 2014, 70 years after Stinney’s conviction and execution, a South Carolina court exonerated him posthumously, finding that Stinney suffered an egregious miscarriage of justice.
The Landmark Supreme Court Decision
The 2005 Supreme Court ruling involved 17-year-old Christopher Simmons, of rural St. Louis. He was convicted of using duct tape to wrap around Shirley Crook’s face and electrical tape to bind her hands and feet, and throw her off a bridge where she drowned.
Simmons was arrested at his high school and taken to the Fenton police station the next day.
After turning 18, Simmons was tried and sentenced to death, according to court records.
Simmons purportedly said to friends they could “get away with it” referring to the crime, because they were minors, according to court records.
One of the most notorious slayings in the United States crisscrossed the Four State area and eventually put a young man from Noel, just barely over the juvenile threshold, eventually on federal death row for another murder.
Brothers Joseph and Shannon Agofsky were 23 and 18, when they kidnapped banker Dan Short from his home in Sulphur Springs, Ark., on Oct. 6, 1989, and robbed $71,000 from the State Bank of Noel. Short was gagged and tied up with duct tape, bound to a chair, weighed down with a concrete block and chain hoist, and thrown off Cowskin Bridge into Grand Lake. Officials have said Short was still alive when he went into the lake.
The brothers were eventually convicted of many state and federal crimes and received two life sentences, although Oklahoma prosecutors sought the death penalty.
In 2004 Shannon Agofsky was convicted of stomping another inmate to death at the federal prison in Beaumont, Texas and received the death penalty. He is on federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.
In 2013, Joseph Agofsky died in a federal prison in North Carolina.