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Judge Sentences Slayer to Life Term Without Parole

January 10, 1987|GEORGE FRANK | Times Staff Writer

After almost eight years, the details of the brutal murder of Savannah Leigh Anderson remain vivid in her mother's mind. Talking about her daughter made her throat draw tight and brought tears to her eyes. She talked a lot about what might have been.

At his sentencing Friday, Mary Maxine Anderson sat within feet of Robert L. Sellers, 28, the man convicted of killing her 22-year-old daughter and raping her in the process.

Superior Court Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald sentenced Sellers to life in prison without possibility of parole. The judge could have discounted the special circumstances surrounding the case and sentenced Sellers simply to life in prison.

Defense attorney Franz Miller said he would file an appeal in the case.

Sellers showed no emotion as the judge read the sentence.

Mary Anderson and her husband, Alvin, 57, an executive in a Salt Lake City environmental engineering firm, appeared in court Friday to implore the judge to give Sellers the toughest sentence possible. They talked about their daughter's life and about her murder in an Irvine apartment on May 14, 1979.

Murder is not like dying from cancer, Mary Anderson said. Murder is really different from other deaths: "You do not get a chance to say goodby."

She recalled that even the funeral was different.

The casket had to be kept closed, and the scheduling was difficult because the coroner and police needed the body for the investigation, she said.

It all happened because of Sellers' "lust," she said. "Our daughter was murdered . . . terrible, terrible, filthy lust."

Person's True Character

"Her love and association are gone because of rapist, murderer Robert Sellers," Alvin Anderson said. "When no one is watching is when a person's true character comes out.

"On May 14, l979, no one was watching."

"Our lives are shattered," he said, adding that Savannah was the couple's only child.

Sellers might never have been brought to trial last year had it not been for an alert Irvine Police Department officer who discovered some overlooked evidence when the case was reopened five years after the killing.

Miss Anderson had just talked to her mother by telephone to wish her a happy Mother's Day when the attack occurred in the victim's one-bedroom apartment. Sellers, a Marine who was working that evening as a security guard at the apartment complex, was eliminated as a suspect in the killing when his palm prints failed to match a bloody print left in the bathroom.

For five years Irvine police carried it as an unsolved murder case.

One Print Matched

It was reopened in 1984 to see if it might be linked to a serial killer in Texas. In reviewing the case, Officer Scott Cade noticed that one of Sellers' prints matched one taken from Miss Anderson's apartment. The FBI confirmed his finding.

Sellers was arrested and confessed to the crime. He admitted that two or three hours after the murder he returned to the apartment, dragged the body into the bathroom and washed it in the shower. He then placed the corpse on the bed and sexually molested the dead woman, he said.

During the trial, defense attorneys argued that Sellers was not guilty of rape because one cannot rape a corpse. But prosecutors countered by saying that the killing and the molestation were one continuous act that began when Sellers clubbed Miss Anderson to death with his night stick.

His attorneys also argued that the crime was no more than second-degree murder because Sellers killed in a rage and had not planned the assault.

Ten members of the jury that convicted Sellers last November attended the sentencing. Fitzgerald said he intended that Sellers "never again step on the streets of society."

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