The majority of 15-year-olds, and to a lesser extent, 13-year-olds, are curious about the world. Hormones are starting to kick in at this point. It’s also the time when parents’ grip on their children begins to slip as other social agents begin to play larger roles in their lives.
Schoolmates, classmates, neighbors, and the media all have a way into the minds and hearts of teenagers at this age, and on August 18, 1987, Sean Lamont Rowe,15, and Ronald Lee Sanford, 13, had their lives turned upside down.
It’s unclear what compelled the two to break into the homes of elderly sisters Anna Louise Harris, 83, and Julie G. Bellmar, 87, under the guise of looking for work.
When Bellmar gave Rowe and Sanford entry to the house, they murdered her, and when sister Harris returned, they murdered her as well and disposed of them in the basement. Incredibly, the foolish boys killed two people for $5, which Sean Rowe took to the Indiana State Fair. The sisters were stabbed and lived next door to Ronald Sanford at 305 Harvard Place in Indianapolis.
Even at this early point, the storyline is already tragic, given the dire condition that Black guys in America face in terms of prison rates. The case has sparked debate even within the black community, with some claiming a miscarriage of justice.
The older of the two boys, Rowe took over a year to be arrested by police by Marion County Sheriff’s Department officers. He requested a plea bargain right away to save his skin and then implicated Sanford, agreeing to testify against him.
Even though he was the elderly one, Rowe claimed he was simply a bystander to the robbery and double murder. Rowe was only charged with helping a heist when further allegations, including murder, were dropped, pinning everything on the younger Sanford.
He pleaded guilty to the crime on March 22, 1989, and was sentenced to five years, eleven months, and thirty days in prison. On March 24, 1991, he was released after serving two years and two days in jail.
Sanford was urged to plead guilty to the double murder, robbery with bodily harm, and burglary based on his age and the lack of clear evidence.
He was 15 years old when he appeared in court and was sentenced to 170 years in prison without the possibility of parole. His estimated release date is 2070, and he has already spent more than 24 years in solitary confinement.
The problem with Sanford’s 170 years is that the police couldn’t show who did what to whom, and considering that the evidence for his conviction is entirely dependent on Rowe’s testimony, right-thinking citizens believe that relying on one to blame the other was insufficient in establishing guilt.
It was impossible to determine who was responsible for the deaths of the two elderly ladies with the knife. It’s either one of them or both of them who committed the murders.
While Rowe immediately requested a plea deal after being apprehended, it was odd that he didn’t disclose the incident to the police until a year later, even though he was not participating in the murders and was simply a “bystander.”
Rowe also profited from the $5 money recovered from the crime scene when he took it to the trade show.
Rowe was never far from trouble, even when he has essentially let off the hook. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for child molestation and one year, five months, and twenty-seven days in jail for incest on October 29, 1999.
Both guys deserved to be punished, but one can only be held accountable for his actions. Is a 170-year sentence for a boy who committed a crime at the age of 13 justified because the authorities couldn’t figure out who attacked the older adults on their own?
What if the elder Rowe was the one who used the murder weapon, denying justice to a little kid who was beginning to develop his own thoughts?
The Indiana Department of Correction Parole Board currently has 57 years to ascertain the truth since Sanford, 96, will appear before the board in 2070, seeking his release from his 170-year sentence.
Sir Trevor McDonald’s program ‘Inside Death Row’ allowed the rest of the world to hear about and appreciate Sanford’s case. Thanks for this show!