Execution set for murderer who could have had life in prison
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2012
4/29/12 at 7:36 AM
Along a coastal highway near Santa Barbara, Calif., Deputy John Peterson noticed a broken-down 1968 Pontiac, light tan with Oklahoma tags.
Working under the hood, two young men with long hair told Peterson they didn't need help. And later that day, they might have slipped across the Mexican border to disappear forever, if only they had smiled and looked the deputy in the eye.
Instead, they seemed nervous. And as he drove away, Peterson radioed to check the tag number.
The answer came seven minutes later, and Peterson swung the patrol car around, racing back to the scene.
By then, the car was gone, but it didn't take long to show up again, this time parked at a nearby beach. Four hours from freedom in Tijuana, the murder suspects stopped to go swimming.
About 25 heavily armed police officers and sheriff's deputies moved in when the men came back to the car to change clothes.
Richard Dodson and Michael Selsor, after a robbery spree that terrorized Tulsa in September 1975, had vowed never to be taken alive.
But they put their hands up without a fight.
Dodson, now 60 years old, has spent the last 36 years in prison, where he'll remain for the rest of his life.
Selsor, now 57, escaped the electric chair when the U.S. Supreme Court forced Oklahoma to reform its death-penalty law, leaving death row empty at the time.
Today, he could be looking forward to growing old behind bars or maybe even getting paroled.
But he made an inexplicable legal blunder, repeatedly demanding a new trial until he actually got one - where a second jury found him guilty again and, again, sentenced him to death.
He'll die by lethal injection Tuesday, barring a last-minute reprieve.
After so many years, "what purpose does my execution serve," Selsor asked the Pardon and Parole Board during his clemency hearing this month, "but for hate and revenge?"
In turn, the parole board asked him a question.
If he confessed to the crime, if he had no hope for a different verdict or a lighter sentence, why did he take the extraordinary risk of seeking a new trial?
Selsor, his salt-and-pepper hair now cut short, stared straight ahead.
"Well," he responded in a monotone, "there ain't no easy answer to that."
'Act like you're dead'
To get away from his parents, who allegedly beat him and his sister, Selsor dropped out of high school and joined the Army.
While serving in West Germany, he qualified as an expert marksman.
He would later brag about shooting an East German border guard, an incident that presumably would've sparked an international uproar if it had really happened.
True or not, Selsor apparently wanted to be seen as a dangerous killer. He also boasted about beating a man to death one night outside of a bar, even though no report of such a crime was ever found.
"That's big talk from a guy who thought he was bulletproof," said Robert Nance, one of Selsor's current attorneys. "That never happened."
Dodson, on the other hand, had a real crime to brag about. In 1971, when he was 19 years old, he went to prison for attacking two teenage carhops with a butcher knife.
He got out of jail in June 1975, three months before the crime spree with Selsor began.
Court records, trial testimony and newspaper reports detail how the crimes unfolded.
Police suspect Dodson or Selsor pointed a shotgun at a convenience store clerk in north Tulsa on Sept. 4 that year.
The money had been put in a drop-box, where Frank Danyeur couldn't get to it. So the gunman ordered Danyeur to go outside, where he shot him in the back.
Danyeur barely survived.
In Jenks two days later, a store clerk identified Selsor as the man who robbed her at knifepoint while Dodson stood guard near the door.
When she screamed for help, Selsor pushed Naomi Wilson to the floor and stabbed her more than 20 times.
"Come on," Dodson finally hollered, probably saving Wilson's life. "Let's get out of here."
Within a week, two more gas stations had been robbed, and the whole city seemed on edge.
"We've grown kind of numb to this kind of thing now," explains Chuck Jordan, who was one of the lead investigators at the time. He's now the Tulsa police chief.
"Back then, it was a big deal. People were scared, outraged."
Ina Louise Morris, a 20-year-old clerk at a convenience store in west Tulsa, was restocking the cooler when she noticed Dodson watching her through the glass doors.
It was 11 p.m., closing time, on Sept. 15, 1975.
Dodson pointed a gun and told Morris to get down on her knees.
"You've got to be kidding," Morris told him.
Dodson fired once, hitting her in the right shoulder. And Morris fell to her knees, still holding a Mountain Dew in her hand.
"If you look up," he warned her, "I'll kill you."
But she looked up.
Dodson was holding the gun in both hands, pointing it at her.
She saw him pull the trigger. She heard the bullet hit the glass.
"He just kept firing and firing and firing - I thought he was never going to quit," she testified during the 1976 trial.
"I could hear glass breaking everywhere, and then at one point, my whole body went numb. It knocked me up against some crates, and I kind of fell over."
She was hit seven times.
"In my own mind," she testified, "I said to myself, 'Just lay here and act like you're dead.' Then I lost consciousness."
When she woke up a few minutes later, the gunman was gone. And Morris found the store manager, 55-year-old Clayton Chandler, in a pool of blood behind the cash register.
'I shot the man'
By 1975, Clayton Chandler's son, Clayton Jr., and two daughters were already grown. Only the youngest child, a 15-year-old high school student named Cathy, was living at home.
Chandler and his wife, Anne, were saving up for an RV, ready to start traveling as soon as the house was empty.
Both of them had worked as U-ToteM managers for several years, Anne taking the day shift while her husband stayed late.
"He was an ornery little man," remembered Debbie Huggins, their daughter, who is now 58 years old. "He was always laughing, always cracking jokes."
Huggins had visited the store herself the night of the robbery, telling her dad goodbye 15 or 20 minutes before closing time.
She rushed back as soon as she heard the news and pushed a police detective out of the way to get inside.
Her father had been shot at least four times in the chest at point-blank range.
"I can tell you honestly that now I regret" seeing it, Huggins said. "It's burned into my memory."
A week later in California, Selsor was under interrogation when a Santa Barbara detective asked him what happened to make the robbery "go bad."
"No," Selsor said, according to a transcript, "that was a pretty good one. We got over $500."
To be exact, Selsor and Dodson got away with $512.11, the equivalent of about $2,200 in today's money.
Both made full confessions, with Dodson described as "remorseful and eager to cooperate," while Selsor "didn't seem particularly upset," according to police reports.
In Dodson's version of the story, Selsor planned the shooting before they went into the store, saying "let's take them out" to avoid witnesses.
"I didn't think we would go through with it," Dodson told detectives. But when he heard Selsor's gun, Dodson "freaked out" and fired his own weapon.
Down the hall in a separate interrogation room, Selsor put the blame the other way around.
Dodson fired first. Then Selsor, assuming the clerk was already dead, made what he insisted was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
"When I heard Dodson shoot the woman in the cooler," Selsor told the Parole Board this month, sticking to the same story, "I shot the man several times."
'Yes, it is'
Three extra deputies guarded the courtroom during the preliminary hearing in October 1975.
One of them removed his service revolver, carefully handing it to another officer, before approaching Selsor with handcuffs.
A rumor had spread through the Tulsa County Jail that Selsor wanted to kill Dodson, "even if he has to grab a cop's gun to do it."
Partners in crime, they became bitter enemies in court. Selsor wanted a separate trial, or at least separate attorneys, because Dodson's confession was being used against him as evidence of premeditation.
The judge, however, ordered them to stand together with the same lawyers defending both. The trial ended five months after the crime.
The jurors, one of them sobbing as the verdicts were read, spared Dodson's life but condemned Selsor to the electric chair.
He joined 38 other inmates on Oklahoma's death row at the time. But a year later, under orders from the U.S. Supreme Court, all of them had their death sentences commuted to life in prison.
Today, 23 of them remain behind bars.
Only one is facing death.
"He never knew the risk of challenging his conviction," Nance, the current defense attorney, explained to the Parole Board. "He was caught by a completely freakish and unexpected change in the law."
In prison, Selsor took the GED and began reading law books, sometimes guided by a fellow inmate who served as a kind of amateur "jailhouse attorney."
By the 1990s, apparently without professional counsel, he began filing new appeals, arguing again that he should have had a separate trial.
"I got a little bit of an education," Selsor told the Parole Board. "Realized that a few errors had been made."
Eventually, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Selsor would get the new trial he wanted.
By the time he realized the death penalty would also be back on the table, it was too late. The original verdict had been irrevocably erased, as if the first trial never happened.
Gary Peterson, another one of Selsor's current attorneys, complained to the Parole Board this month.
"They reconsidered their decision" to gave him a new trial, Peterson said. "But he wasn't allowed to reconsider his decision."
Before the retrial in 1998, Selsor's legal team argued that he shouldn't be eligible for the death penalty since technically there was no "valid" death penalty law in Oklahoma at the time of his crime.
But several courts, at the state and federal level, ruled against him.
Selsor never denied committing the murder. So the only significant issue at the trial involved premeditation and Selsor's old dispute with Dodson over who shot first.
The jury deliberated for three hours, and then Selsor stood silent and motionless as he received a death sentence, again.
"To the family of the victim," Selsor read in a statement during his clemency hearing this month, "thirty-seven calendars have gone by.
"Is it too late to say 'I'm sorry'?"
Huggins, who still can't go into a convenience store without picturing her father's bloody corpse lying on the floor, was listening from the back of the room.
"Yes," she whispered. "It is."
From the crime to execution: 37 years
September 1975: Selsor kills a convenience store manager in west Tulsa and flees to California, where he is arrested.
January 1976: He is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
April 1977: The sentence is commuted to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court forces Oklahoma to reform its death-penalty law.
October 1991: Selsor launches a new round of appeals in federal court.
April 1996: The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals orders a new trial.
October 1997: The state Court of Criminal Appeals rules that Selsor can face the death penalty again.
February 1998: Selsor is convicted again and, again, sentenced to die.
March 2012: Officials schedule the execution for May 1.
Original Print Headline: Execution awaits man who once escaped it
Michael Overall 918-581-8383
Michael Selsor: His execution is set for Tuesday in the 1975 murder of Tulsa convenience store manager Clayton Chandler.
Anne Chandler (left), widow of slain convenience store manager Clayton Chandler, leaves a Pardon and Parole Board hearing this month with her daughter Debbie Huggins, who urged the board to deny clemency for convicted killer Michael Selsor. BRETT DEERING / for the Tulsa World
"The whole community was outraged," Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan told the Pardon and Parole Board this month, remembering the 1975 killing of store manager Clayton Chandler. BRETT DEERING / for the Tulsa World