GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — David Samel was 17 in October of 1981 when he and his twin brother Michael decided to rob 19-year-old pool hall janitor Robert Sellon in the basement of the former Golden 8 Ball on South Division Avenue.
Instead, they ended up beating and strangling the young man to death.
One brother would take a plea deal that allowed him to get out of prison in 2009 while the other was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
After the Supreme Court found mandatory life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth asked the court to reconsider the sentence.
In court Friday, the half-sister of victim Robert Sellon – Tammi Baker — told the court that she has forgiven the killers and wanted to see them free. She was 15 when her brother was killed.
“Even though this was a horrific crime against our family which is still painful, I would like to see them get out,” Baker said.
A tearful Samel acknowledged the support he has gotten from the woman and made this promise.
“I would like the court to know that I am not that broken teenager anymore,” Samel said. “I’ve made phenomenal strides toward my reform.”
Samel says he has two jobs lined up with the help of the Department of Corrections that includes mentoring at risk youth and asbestos abatement in the Detroit area
“I would like to say to Mr. Forsyth and to the court and especially to Tammi and her family I won’t let you down,” Samel said.
The statements were enough to convince a judge.
“I think, perhaps, Mr. Samel has been confined long enough given the totality of circumstances,” Kent County Circuit Court Judge Donald Johnston said.
The judge sentenced Samel to 34-and-a-half years making him immediately eligible for parole. Those familiar with the case say there is no reason that he should not see release as soon as the board meets again.
“I don’t want to minimize what happened to my brother,” Baker said after the sentence hearing. “You were both there and you both did it but, y’know, I forgive you and you both deserve a second chance so I am grateful that the judge chose to go with the sentence that he has.”
Samel is the first of nine people who will be resentenced including five more on Sept. 30 that includes Saulo Montalvo who was the 15-year-old get-away driver and planner of the February 1996 robbery of a beer store on Grand Rapids’ West Side that ended with the murder of Rodney Corp.