Most 15 and to an extent 13-year-olds are curious about the world. It is the time hormones start kicking in. It’s also the time the grip parents have over their wards start loosening up as other social agents start having bigger roles in their lives.
It’s at this stage that school mates, friends, neighbors and the media have a way into the minds and hearts of teenagers and for Sean Lamont Rowe, 15, and Ronald Lee Sanford, 13, their lives took on a rather disastrous turn on August 18, 1987.
One cannot tell what motivated the pair enough to storm the house of elderly sisters Anna Louise Harris, 83, and Julie G. Bellmar, 87 under the pretext of seeking a job for pay.
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When Bellmar gave access to Rowe and Sanford, they murdered her and when sister Harris returned, they killed her too and disposed of them in the basement.
Incredibly, the foolhardy boys committed the double homicide for $5 which Sean Rowe took to the Indiana State Fair.
It should be noted that the sisters were neighbors with Ronald Sanford at 305 Harvard Place, Indianapolis and that the sisters were stabbed.
The story, even at this stage, is already unfortunate given the stark situation Black males face in America regarding the rate of incarceration.
To date, the case has split opinions even among the black community, with some holding there’s a miscarriage of justice.
It took over a year for the elder of the two boys, Rowe, to be arrested by officers from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. Seeking to preserve himself, he immediately requested a plea bargain and then implicated Sanford, agreeing to testify against him.
And as can be expected, Rowe claimed he was only a bystander to the robbery and double murder despite being the elderly one. Pinning everything on the younger Sanford, Rowe was just charged with assisting a robbery, having other charges including murder dropped.
On March 22, 1989, he pleaded guilty to that charge and received a sentence of five years 11 months and 30 days. He was released on March 24, 1991, having served two years and two days.
For Sanford, he was advised to plead guilty to double murder, robbery with bodily harm and burglary on the understanding that his age and lack of conclusive evidence would be taken into account.
He was 15 years old when he stood before the court and he was sentenced to 170 years without parole. His projected release date is 2070, and he’s already served over 24 years in lockdown.
The issue with Sanford’s 170 years is that the police couldn’t prove who did what to whom and given that the evidence for his conviction is largely based on Rowe’s testimony, right-thinking members of society reckon the police having to rely on one to blame the other was unsatisfactory in establishing guilt.
It was difficult to prove conclusively who wielded the knife that was responsible for the death of the two elderly ladies. It’s either one of them did it or both were involved in the killings.
While Rowe quickly requested a plea bargain as soon as he was taken into custody, it was curious that for one not involved in the murders and just a ‘bystander’, he didn’t report the incident to the police a whole year after the incident.
Also, it was Rowe who again gained form the $5 money taken from the crime scene when he took it to the trade fair.
Even when he was virtually left off the hook, trouble still found Rowe. On October 29, 1999, he was sentenced to 20 years for child molestation and 1 year 5 months and 27 days for incest.
Both boys needed to be penalized but one can only be made to account for one’s crime. The police couldn’t independently ascertain who stabbed the elderly ladies, so is a 170-year sentence given to a boy who committed a crime at age 13 right?
What if the elder Rowe was the one who wielded the murder weapon denying justice to a boy who was only coming to possess independent thought of his own?
As things stand, The Indiana Department of Correction Parole Board has 57 years to determine the truth, as, by 2070, Sanford, 96, will appear before the board seeking his release from his 170-year sentence.
It is thanks to Sir Trevor McDonald’s program ‘Inside Death Row’ that the world got to hear and appreciate the peculiarity with Sanford’s case.