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Nearly eight years after his arrest, Dr. Charles “Tom” Sell remains behind bars--awaiting trial and the outcome of another competency evaluation. Dr. Sell has argued for years that he is competent to stand trial, and in July of last year a federal judge agreed. But in November the trial was again postponed and another competency evaluation ordered.

The long period of pretrial detention has been devastating to Dr. Sell and his family. His health has been seriously damaged and he has lost his business, home and savings.

What has happened to Dr. Sell, at the hands of the Justice Department, is an extreme example of the consequences of unchecked governmental power. His experience, however, has implications for all Americans.

Shortly after his arrest in 1997 on Medicaid and mail fraud charges, Dr. Sell turned down a government plea bargain offer. Within two months his bond was revoked for allegedly pointing his finger at a potential witness. As described below, not only was this incident fabricated—it was obviously fabricated. The government subsequently alleged that Dr. Sell conspired to have this witness and an FBI agent murdered—for the sum of $235. In 1999, with government support, Dr. Sell was ruled incompetent and he was sent to a federal prison/hospital for a 120-day period for competency restoration. He remained there for five years, as the government sought court approval to forcibly inject him with mind-altering drugs.

If you think that this is a case study in the coercion of a guilty plea at the federal level, you are not alone. But it is more than that. Dr. Sell’s case has helped clarify the real significance of the Speedy Trial Act, inasmuch as Dr. Sell has been behind bars for seven years awaiting trial. (As noted above, Dr. Sell was in jail for two years before he was declared incompetent.)

Competency restoration in the psychiatric ward of the federal prison/hospital where Dr. Sell was held is described in court records and media reports. They portray a novel approach to mental health therapy. Of the five years that Dr. Sell was confined at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, nearly two years (22 months) were in solitary confinement. Dr. Sell’s isolation in a four by eight, featureless, walled cell, was punctuated by episodes of abuse and torture. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act corroborate Dr. Sell’s claims. For two of the incidents, there is videotape evidence that the government has refused to release.

In one of the incidents, his clothes were removed and he was tightly shackled with a “black box” device at the wrists, waist and ankles and left on a concrete slab for twenty hours. Records show that Dr. Sell offered no resistance before, during or after the incident. In the other incident for which there is videotape evidence, Dr. Sell was locked in a shower stall and sprayed with scalding hot water. A medical report confirms the scalding. (See St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, dated March 20, 2001.)

What impact are we to believe this “therapy” had on Dr. Sell’s competency? The government argued from the start that mind-altering drugs were the only treatment that could restore Dr. Sell’s competency. As a result of his successful court battle, which reached the U. S. Supreme Court, the government was never allowed to administer that treatment. One might reasonably conclude that he never was incompetent.

Equally important are the revelations that the government’s key witnesses have a history of lying and fabricating testimony in other cases. (See St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, dated March 21, 2004.) These revelations about the government’s witnesses have obvious implications for the pending trial. Moreover, the allegation of one of these government witnesses, who had lied twice before under oath, resulted in the revocation of Dr. Sell’s bond.

It was the bond revocation that was the direct cause of Dr. Sell’s loss of his business, home and savings. The witness alleged that Dr. Sell threatened her by pointing his finger at her through a glass door in the office where she was working. Dr. Sell was sent by the government to the same floor, in the same building, where the witness was working. Dr. Sell testified under oath at the bond revocation hearing that he never saw the witness much less pointed his finger at her. There was no one to corroborate the account of the government witness, even though the alleged incident occurred at a doctor’s office during visiting hours; the time of the alleged incident was at odds with the time of Dr. Sell’s visit and the witness did not appear in court.

The abuse of governmental power described above is facilitated by a mind-set among too many Justice Department employees, that they are above the law and that they will win-at-all-costs.

The importance of the media’s role cannot be overestimated in the effort to combat the abuse of power by the federal government. Fortunately, Dr. Sell’s case has attracted significant media attention. In addition to the print media, Dateline NBC aired a 45-minute segment on Dr. Sell’s case on June 13, 2003. Four days later, following the Supreme Court decision to block his forced medication by the government, the New York Times said in a front page story that he had come to be viewed in “some quarters as a symbol of clinging to personal autonomy in the face of overweening government power.”

He has indeed become that symbol. Through prayer—by him and many others—Dr. Sell has managed to survive this terrible onslaught by the federal government. But he and his family need more prayers and financial support. If you can, please help.

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