Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Tommy Lynn Sells

A Brief Trial

Sells faced trial for murder in Del Rio in September 2000. He wore a blue suit that covered his tattoos. His hair was closely trimmed, and he wore studious spectacles.

Testimony revealed that Katy Harris may not have been his first choice for sexual deviance on the night of her murder. He spent that evening at Larry's Lakeside Tavern. The first witness, bartender Noell Houchin, said Sells harassed her all night long.

"He was obsessed with having sex with me. That's all we talked about all night long," she testified.

At the 2 a.m. closing, Sells was shooed away by another man, a customer looking out for Houchin.

Crystal Harris took the stand to testify that her family met Sells in church, then bought a used truck from him because they felt sorry for him.

But the star witness was Krystal Surles, the child whose throat he slashed. As the trial began, Sells pleaded guilty to that assault—a well-considered legal maneuver.

"He's attempting to save his life," his lawyer, Victor Garcia, told reporters. "He's trying to show the jury that he is accepting responsibility."

But the trial belonged to young Krystal, who mounted the witness stand with a jagged pink scar across her neck. She bravely recounted the murder of her friend and the slashing of her own throat. She looked Sells in the eye as she testified, and she calmly pointed him out as her assailant.

The girl's mother, Pam Surles, told reporters, "She wants him to die. That's exactly what she said."

Tommy Lynn Sells outside court
Tommy Lynn Sells outside

Sells did not testify, but he did appear in a videotaped walk-through of the crime scene that was played for jurors. During the tour, he told investigators that he had "nothing intentional on my mind" when he went to the Harris home at 4 a.m.

Attorney Garcia allowed that the murder was "a hellish, brutal crime," but he argued it was not capital murder, a verdict required for condemnation.

The jury disagreed. It took just an hour to convict on that charge after a brief, three-day trial. The jury then voted for execution.