CLEVELAND >> A serial killer will be put to death for murdering 11 women and dumping their bodies around his property, a judge ruled today.
Anthony Sowell should die by lethal injection for his crimes, Judge Dick Ambrose ruled, accepting the sentencing recommendation of the jury that convicted Sowell of aggravated murder.
Sowell, 51, never looked at victims’ relatives as they spoke during the sentencing hearing. He also ignored the judge when asked if he wanted to speak and never moved when the judge asked him to sign a court document. His attorney, John Parker, said Sowell didn’t want to speak and signed the sex-offender reporting requirement document for Sowell.
Dozens of relatives were in the courtroom. As the hearing began, deputies passed around boxes of tissues to the relatives and warned against any outburst.
Sowell was seated in court wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, his hands cuffed with waist chains. He was arrested on Halloween 2009, two days after police went to his house on a sexual-assault complaint and began finding bodies.
He went on trial in June and was convicted July 22 on 82 counts: aggravated murder, kidnapping, corpse abuse and evidence tampering.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Pinky Carr has said the case “screamed death penalty.” Her prosecution colleague, Richard Bombik, said “if this guy doesn’t get the death penalty, nobody should.”
Sowell’s defense team, John Parker and Rufus Sims, rested without calling witnesses and instead focused on sparing his life with sympathetic testimony about his troubled childhood, his Marine Corps service and good behavior while serving 15 years for attempted rape.
The women began disappearing in 2007, and prosecutors say Sowell lured them to his home with the promise of alcohol or drugs. Police discovered the first two bodies and a freshly dug grave in late 2009 after officers went to investigate a woman’s report that she had been raped there.
Many of the slain women had been missing for weeks or months, and some had criminal records. They were disposed of in garbage bags and plastic sheets, then dumped in various parts of the house and yard. There was little left of one victim: a skull in a plastic bucket with non-human bite marks on the edge.
The rotting bodies created an overpowering stench that neighbors blamed on an adjacent sausage factory. The owner spent $20,000 on new plumbing fixtures and sewer lines, to no avail.
Most of the victims were nude from the waist down, strangled with household objects and had traces of cocaine or depressants in their systems. All the victims were black, as is Sowell.
Jurors sat through weeks of disturbing and emotional testimony before convicting Sowell. They saw photographs of the victims’ blackened, skeletal corpses lying on autopsy tables and listened to police describe how their bodies had been left to rot in Sowell’s Cleveland home and backyard.
Sowell took the stand Monday to make an unsworn statement in which he apologized.
“The only thing I want to say is I’m sorry,” Sowell told the jury. “I know that might not sound like much, but I truly am sorry from the bottom of my heart.”
The jury didn’t buy it: They said his statement, which was guided by questions from Parker, sounded rehearsed and lacked remorse.
Sowell wasn’t subject to cross-examination, so prosecutors didn’t get to ask why he killed the women and lived in the house for two years with their remains bagged in corners or buried in the backyard.
Sowell mostly sat impassively during the trial but smiled at childhood recollections by a half-brother and a greeting from his stepmother’s 88-year-old mother, who looked up from the witness stand and seemed surprised to see him.