Victim’s sister approves of resentencing murderer

As a juvenile, David Samel was sentenced to life in prison for Grand Rapids murder

David Samel
A January 2014 photo of David Samel.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — At 17, David Samel was convicted of the murder of an 18-year-old friend in the basement of a Grand Rapids pool hall. Friday, at the age of 52, he could have the prospect of freedom after nearly 35 years behind bars.

David Samel is the first of 24 prisoners convicted of murder in Kent County and sentenced to a mandatory term of life without parole when they were juveniles who will be resentenced. That’s thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found the mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life in prison without parole to be unconstitutional.

In October 1981, David Samel and his twin brother, Michael, were stoned and drunk when they set out to steal marijuana and cash from 18-year-old maintenance worker, Robert Sellon, as he slept in the basement of the old Golden 8 Ball Pool Hall on S. Division Avenue south of Burton Street. Police say Sellon was strangled by nunchucks and beaten with a hammer.

The twins got away with $50.

Michael Samel took a plea deal, confessing to second-degree murder. He was released from prison in 2009. David Samel took his chances with a bench trial and remains behind bars.

Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth said that Samel, along with eight other juvenile convicts, are worthy of parole consideration and they will all be resentenced over the next several weeks. He said he chose only those who did not directly kill the victims.

“To me, they both murdered my brother. They both need to be punished for it and they’re both equally to blame,” said Tammi Baker, the half-sister of Sellon.

Baker she was initially furious at the twins, but through her faith came to embrace forgiveness.

“I’ve come to know them and I know that they are very remorseful for what they’ve done and they’re looking for that second chance,” Baker said. “It doesn’t bring my brother back and it doesn’t minimize the fact that they took my brother’s life, but I’m OK with it.”

She has communicated with both brothers, even helping Michael Samel get a job and place to live. She also wrote to parole board and to the judge who will oversee Friday’s hearing.

“I want them to have a good life. I know it’s going to be a struggle, but I hope they don’t give up,” she said.

She says she will be at the hearing Friday.

Thursday, Forsyth wouldn’t say what sentence he will recommend, but it is expected to be in the 25- to 60-year range. That could mean that Samel could see freedom right away.

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