Jurors to judge: execute Ohio man who killed 11

August 11, 2011 - 4:30 AM
Cleveland Bodies Found

Anthony Sowell, left, stands with his attorney Rufus Sims as they listen as the jury recommends the death penalty Wednesday, August 10, 2011 in Cleveland. Sowell, who was convicted July 22 of aggravated murder in eleven women's deaths. (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Marvin Fong, Pool)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Jurors who recommended the death sentence for a serial killer who hid the remains of 11 women in his home and yard said they were not swayed by his apology, but by the gripping testimony of survivors of his one-man house of horrors.

Anthony Sowell, 51, convicted last month of aggravated murder, will be sentenced Friday by Judge Dick Ambrose.

The same jury that convicted Sowell deliberated for less than a day before deciding Wednesday to recommend execution by lethal injection over life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Ambrose has the option of reducing the death penalty sentence to life without parole.

That has happened only eight times since Ohio reinstated capital punishment in 1981, most recently in 2002. It has never been reduced in Ohio for anyone convicted of killing multiple victims.

Jurors told the judge they plan to be in court to see Sowell sentenced.

The Sowell case "screamed death penalty," said assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Pinky Carr.

"If this guy doesn't get the death penalty, nobody should," said her colleague, assistant Prosecutor Richard Bombik.

One of Sowell's two defense attorneys, Rufus Sims, declined to characterize his client's response to the jury's recommendation. "We move on to the next phase," he said.

Sowell, with his hands cuffed to chains around his waist, stood impassively but blinked faster and his brow twitched as the 10th and 11th sentence recommendations were read. Some jurors glanced at Sowell, others watched as victims' relatives hugged and cried in court.

Someone shouted "Ha ha," and the group applauded with their hands above their heads as Sowell was led from the courtroom. He turned to the families in the gallery and made a stiff bow before he was led away.

Donnita Carmichael, whose mother, Tonia, was killed by Sowell, said, "Justice finally. Everybody's happy."

Vanessa Gay said she wonders whether Sowell feels any remorse. Gay testified that she was attacked by Sowell in 2008 and saw a headless body in the house.

"Does he feel shame? Does he feel anything?" she asked. "I want him to hurt, not physically. If he has a soul, I want him to hurt."

The Associated Press generally does not identify sexual assault victims, but Gay has spoken publicly about her ordeal.

Gay met with jurors, thanking them after they said her testimony and that of other survivors touched them the most.

"I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart," Gay said as several jurors wiped tears.

The gripping testimony of Gay and other survivors was invaluable, according to one juror. "You had the living testimony of those victims," the juror said.

The jurors spoke to reporters after the verdict, withholding their names for privacy and security reasons.

Jurors spoke separately but chimed in together, "No, no," when asked if Sowell's apology in court Monday helped him. Jurors said the statement, meant to spare his life, appeared rehearsed and lacked remorse.

"We felt there was nothing there," a juror said.

Sowell had told the jurors that he didn't know what happened to the women and couldn't explain it.

"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 murdered 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.

During the sentencing phase, Sowell's attorneys had tried to humanize him with a series of witnesses who painted him as growing up in a deeply troubled home. A mental health expert hired by the defense told jurors that Sowell suffers from several mental illnesses, but one juror said Sowell was faking.

Many of the women found in Sowell's home 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. All that remained of one victim, Leshanda Long, was her skull, which was found in a bucket in the basement.

Most of the victims were nude from the waist down, were strangled with household objects and had traces of cocaine or depressants in their systems. All the victims were black, as is Sowell.

The jurors sat through weeks of disturbing and emotional testimony before convicting Sowell of 82 counts for the 11 murders and attacks on three women who survived.

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 around Sowell's home.

The jury also heard during the sentencing phase that Sowell had a prior sexual-assault conviction in 1989 for attempted rape, for which he was incarcerated until 2005. Any mention of it was withheld during the trial to avoid prejudicing jurors.

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AP Legal Affairs writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report