After more than two days of deliberation, jurors convicted Ohio serial killer Anthony Sowell of aggravated murder in the deaths of 11 women whose decomposed remains were found at his Cleveland home. He was found guilty on scores of additional charges related to the deaths, including kidnapping.
Families of the victims hugged and wept as Judge Dick Ambrose read the verdict just before 3 p.m. on Friday. Sowell, wearing a gray polo shirt in court, could face the death penalty.
Sowell, 51, had pleaded not guilty to more than 80 offenses related to the deaths of the women, who began disappearing in 2007.
The bodies were discovered in Sowell’s Cleveland home in 2009. He’d previously served 15 years in prison for a 1989 rape conviction.
Many of the victims had been missing for significant periods of time; most had criminal records and suffered from drug addiction. Nine of the victims had traces of cocaine or depressants in their systems. Prosecutors say Sowell lured the victims to his home with the promise of alcohol or drugs.
The bodies of five women were found in shallow graves in Sowell’s back yard. Four more bodies were discovered on the third floor of his home, and the remains of two more women were discovered in the basement. Several were so badly decomposed had to be identified using dental records.
Another five women reported that Sowell attacked and sexually assaulted them in his home.
In the days before the trial began in June, the victims’ families begged the judge to accept a previous plea deal that would have sidestepped the death penalty and avoided a trial. In a petition filed by members of the women’s families, they said the trial would become a “media spectacle where our loved ones’ lives and the details of the horrendous criminal acts inflicted upon them are spotlighted.”
The death penalty for Sowell isn’t “necessary or even desirable,”
the petition continued, given the grief the families said they would suffer as a result of the trial and the “uncertainties of the criminal justice system.”
But prosecutors moved forward with the trial, during which gruesome details of the slayings were uncovered.
According to the Associated Press:
Sowell told detectives during the interrogation that he heard in his head a voice that told him not to go into a third-floor bedroom where two bodies were found. He also told them about “blackouts” and “nightmares” in which he would hurt women with his hands. He told detectives that he began losing control of his anger about the time the victims started disappearing.
In his closing arguments, Sowell’s attorney John Parker argued that none of the defendant’s DNA had been linked to his client. He said that Sowell, an honorably discharged U.S. Marine, “deserved better.” He also accused police of mishandling the crime scene.
But Richard Bombik, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor, said there was a distinct pattern in Sowell’s violent behavior and evidence “overwhelmingly” linked the deaths to him.
“This is not complicated, ladies and gentlemen,” he told jurors in his closing statements. “Do not make it complicated.”