Krystal's Courage: The Trial

Murderer Tommy Lynn Sells On Trial For Slaying 13-Year-Old Girl

On Dec. 30, 1999, a drifter named Tommy Lynn Sells broke into a home in Del Rio, Texas, and brutally killed 13-year-old Kaylene Harris. Krystal Surles, 10 years old at the time, had her throat slit by Sells but managed to escape and go for help.

Through a sketch artist, Krystal helped authorities create a profile of her attacker that eventually led to Sells' capture. She also became the star witness in Sells' capital murder trial.

While under arrest for the murder of Kaylene, Sells shocked authorities when he freely admitted that he had been criss-crossing the country for 20 years, murdering men, women and children.

His confession to a multiple murder in Illinois may have closed a 13-year-old case for authorities there. In 1987, Elaine Dardeen, seven months pregnant at the time, and her 3-year-old son, Peter, were found bludgeoned to death in their home.

The shock of the attack caused Elaine to give birth. The newborn girl, who authorities believe was alive at the time, was also clubbed to death.

Elaine's husband, Keith, was found dead in a nearby field, shot in the head.

"How you can kill a 3-year-old and also kill a newborn infant, that just goes beyond explanation," says Detective John Kemp who originally investigated the case.

Sells has admitted to scores of murders. To date, authorities have definitively linked him to 13 homicides, including those of Haley McHone, 13, of Lexington, Ky., and Mary Perez, 9, of San Antonio, Texas. And since this story was first broadcast early in 2001, authorities have linked him to additional cases.

"We don't have an exact number. We're not so naive as to believe we'll ever have an exact number," says Texas Ranger Johnny Allen, one of the investigators of the Kaylene Harris murder. The Rangers have worked closely with authorities in other states, even taking Sells to other locations so he could show police where he buried a body or disposed of a murder weapon.

Sells, in a case supported by the emotional testimony of Krystal Surles, was eventually convicted of capital murder in the Kaylene Harris case. After only two hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a sentence of death.

After the trial, Krystal said the only good thing to come out of her ordeal with Sells is "that he got caught and that no one else will get hurt from him."

Sells ha snow bene move dto Death Row, but Texas has an automatic appeal in capital cases, so it could be years before an execution date is even set.

For investigators, one drawback is a Texas state law that prohibits Death Row inmates from leaving prison. It's no longer possible for Sells to show investigators in other states where all the bodies are buried.

Part I: Krystal's Courage

  • David Kohn

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