The Strange Case of Dr. Charles "Tom" Sell

A federal judge has ordered that Dr. Charles "Tom" Sell be sent to a federal prison hospital in North Carolina to determine if he is mentally fit to stand trial on fraud and murder conspiracy charges - the same issue that has left Sell lingering behind bars for nearly eight years awaiting trial. Sell's trial was to have begun Monday before U.S. District Judge Donald J. Stohr.

On Nov. 24, Stohr ruled that Sell must be treated once again at a federal prison hospital, this time in Butner, N.C. Stohr's ruling did not spell out how long Sell could be held there. . . .

Stohr made the ruling after Sell's lawyers - Barry Short and Lee Lawless - argued in court Nov. 22 that Sell was so obsessed with mistreatment at Springfield that he could not assist in preparing for trial.

Sell was charged in 1997 with Medicaid and mail fraud, and a year later with murder conspiracy. His case has seen delay after delay as prosecutors and defense lawyers argued that he was too mentally ill to stand trial.

A once successful Creve Coeur dentist, Sell is accused of falsifying bills for dental work he said he performed on his patients. After he posted bail on those charges, the FBI re-arrested Sell and charged him with plotting to kill one of its agents and a witness who said Sell had pointed his finger at her in the shape of a gun. Sell has denied all of the charges.

Dr. Sell seems to maintain that he was falsely charged and has been grossly mistreated in prison. The government seems to counter that Dr. Sell is mentally deranged. In any event, I don't envy what has happened to him. A psychiatrist named Dr. C. Robert Cloninger, who has evaluated Dr. Sell for competency, has reported as follows:

Cloninger wrote in his affidavit to the court Nov. 12 that he had visited Sell for 3 1/2 hours and reviewed videotapes of what he described as Sell being mistreated by guards at the Springfield prison hospital.

Cloninger said he believes Sell has a delusional disorder of the persecutory type because he is so fixated on what happened at the prison hospital.

In his report, Cloninger noted that the tapes show what Sell has been saying all along about his treatment there. Cloninger wrote that in 1999, Sell was pulled from his cell by seven guards. Sell offered no resistance as he was taken to an isolation cell. Even so, the guards cut off his clothes, "seemingly unnecessarily" injected him with a sedative and handcuffed him to a box where he was left to lie on a concrete slab for 19 hours.

In addition, Cloninger said, a second set of videos showed a guard spraying Sell with scalding hot water, ordering a female nurse to watch, throwing Sell to the floor and dragging him to his cell on his back.

Cloninger said the only way Sell can regain competency is to be treated with compassion and respect.

Why hasn't he been treated with compassion and respect all along, guilty or not? Details here from the St.Louis Post Dispatch.

Dr. Sell's case has already gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Court ruled against the government's attempt to forcibly administer antipsychotic drugs to render him competent to stand trial. The Court's opinion is here. More about the case in the Supreme Court is here.