Jury recommends execution for Ohio serial killer

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CLEVELAND — A serial killer who hid the remains of 11 women in his 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.

Jurors deliberated for less than a day before deciding to recommend execution by lethal 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 stood impassively with his hands cuffed in front of him but blinked rapidly as the verdicts were read. Family members of the victims hugged and sobbed. One woman in the front row sat with her hands folded in prayer.

During the sentencing phase, defense attorneys tried to humanize Sowell 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.

One of Sowell’s two defense attorneys, John Parker, 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.

The 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 around Sowell’s home.

During the trial, several women gave grueling testimony about attacks by Sowell, telling the court how they had escaped. One woman, who said she was brutally raped by Sowell, testified that she had seen a headless body in his home.

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