CLEVELAND — A serial killer who hid the remains of 11 women in his Cleveland home and yard should be put to death, a jury recommended Wednesday.
Anthony Sowell, 51, was convicted July 22 of aggravated murder in the deaths of the women, whose remains were unearthed in his home and yard in late 2009.
The same jury that convicted Sowell deliberated for less than a day before deciding to recommend execution by injection over life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The final sentence will be up to Judge Dick Ambrose, who will impose the sentence Friday and is permitted to reduce a death-penalty sentence to life without parole.
Sowell, with his hands cuffed to manacles chained around his waist, stood ramrod straight, blinking rapidly and rocking lightly on his heels as the verdicts were read. He looked straight ahead, above the heads of the jurors, and as the final verdicts were read, his eyes narrowed and his eyebrows began to twitch.
Relatives of the victims seated in the court sobbed quietly and hugged each other. One woman in the front row sat with her hands folded in prayer.
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 public gallery and made a stiff bow before he was led away.
One of Sowell’s two defense attorneys, Rufus Sims, declined to characterize his client’s response to the sentencing recommendation. “We move on to the next phase,” he said.
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.
Defense attorney John Parker had said Sowell deserved to live because of his troubled childhood in an abusive home, his service in the Marine Corps, his job history and his good behavior while serving 15 years in prison for attempted rape.
Prosecutors countered with mental health experts who said Sowell had normal brain function.
Assistant prosecutor Pinkey Carr said Sowell deserves to die for his crimes and responded to comments about his mental condition by saying, “He’s crazy like a fox. He’s evil.” She said Sowell was motivated by a lack of respect for women.
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 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.
Sowell was convicted of 82 counts, including aggravated murder, rape, attempted murder and kidnapping, for the 11 murders and attacks on three women who survived.