December 12, 1982
Madison, Indiana
D.H. Fleenor (31) kills his estranged wife’s parents after blaming them for the end of his marriage

Fleenor had blamed his in-laws for the end of his 4-month marriage, and held resentment toward the family. On December 11, Fleenor spent a portion of the evening drinking with an acquaintance and revealed he planned to kill five members of his wife’s family. He also told the bartender they would likely not see each other again as he was going to be spending the rest of his life in jail.

On the afternoon of December 12, Fleenor purchased a .22 caliber pistol. During the evening, he approached his estranged wife Sandra Sedam, as well as her mother and step-father Nyla and Bill Harlow, during a church service. He apologized for an incident that had occurred earlier in the evening in which he seemed agitated and possibly under the influence of alcohol. The rest of the church service proceeded without incident.

Before the Harlows returned home, Fleenor broke into their house and waited for the family to arrive. Bill was the first to encounter Fleenor, and the first to be shot. According to the coroner, the wound was not fatal. Fleenor then ordered Nyla, Sedam, and three children — two of whom were Bill’s grandchildren, ages 10 and 12, while the third was Sedam’s 2-year-old son — to sit on a couch. Fleenor threatened to kill his 2-year-old stepson should the others not follow his commands.

Fleenor eventually allowed Nyla to see her husband and, as she knelt to assist Bill, Fleenor shot Nyla in the top of her head. Sedam and the older two children were then forced to move Nyla’s body to a bedroom. Fleenor checked on Bill who asked about his wife and Sedam pleaded with her husband not to shoot her step-father again. “You know I have to,” Fleenor replied. “I can’t let him suffer.” Bill was then fatally shot as well.

Fleenor ordered his wife to visit her brother’s house to inform him the family would be out of town for a few days, and threatened to kill all three children if she refused or raised an alarm. Sedam complied and returned to the Harlow home where the family spent the night. The following day, Fleenor forced the children and Sedam into a car and began driving to Florida, stopping to stay with a cousin in Tennessee on the way. The bodies of the Harlows were found four days after their murders and a warrant was issued for Fleenor’s arrest.

Fleenor was arrested in Tennessee following a 5-hour standoff in which he threatened to kill his seven hostages — Sedam and the three children from the Harlow murders as well as his cousin and her two children, ages 4 months and 2 years. No further injuries or casualties occurred during the standoff.

The Tennessean. December 17, 1982
via newspapers.com
(click for full view)

Fleenor pleaded not responsible by reason of insanity, stating he had been under the influence of amphetamines, methaqualone, alcohol, and mental strain at the time of the killings. “I didn’t want to be here, today or any day,” Fleenor told the court. “For what happened I’m sorry. It was pressure and alcohol. I can’t deny it. I wasn’t gaining nothing. I was losing.”

After Fleenor was convicted of murder, the defense team asked the judge to sentence their client to two consecutive life sentences, a prison term that would ensure Fleenor would die in prison. “If D. dies a natural death in prison,” the defense argued, “society will be protected. There’s a difference between a killing of passion and a cold-blooded killing. A cold-blooded killing by the state cannot be understood. Killing D. Fleenor has no justiciable, necessary purpose.”

D. H. Fleenor in 1994
via Clark County Prosecutor

The judge disagreed with the defense’s suggestion. “Your conduct shows a total lack of regard for any other person than D. H. Fleenor,” Judge Larry McKinney addressed Fleenor. “You deliberately and continually refused to acknowledge the laws in this state, and you deliberately and continually refused to acknowledge the sanctity of life in this state. There are no other circumstances appropriate in this matter. You will die in the electric chair at Michigan City, Indiana at the State Prison.”

Appeals were made on Fleenor’s behalf on the basis of intellectual disability. Fleenor had an estimated IQ of 75, giving him the approximate mental age of a 12-year-old. Despite the questions of ethics, Fleenor’s execution continued as planned. He was executed by lethal injection on December 9, 1999. His last statement was, “I am not guilty.”

Sources:
D. H. Fleenor. Clark County Prosecutor. Accessed: December 12, 2020. http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/fleenor594.htm
Paterson, James. “Scheduled Fleenor execution on minds.” The Indianapolis Star. December 7, 1999
Fleenor v. Farley, 47 F. Supp. 2d 1021 (S.D. Ind. 1998). February 2, 1998 (archived: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/47/1021/2527663/)
Redmond, Mike. “Slayer Sentenced To Death In Chair.” The Indianapolis News. January 5, 1984
Redmond, Mike. “Mom Pleads For Son’s Life: ‘He Was Plumb Out Of His Mind’.” The Indianapolis News. December 6, 1983
“SWAT Team Nabs Ex-Con.” The Indianapolis News. December 17, 1982

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