Ohio serial killer suspect pleads insanity

AP News
Posted: Dec 03, 2009 9:47 PM

A registered sex offender accused of killing 11 women pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to all charges Thursday, a plea that will leave the legal system to decide whether a sane person can live for years with 10 bodies and a skull.

Anthony Sowell, 50, entered the plea while being arraigned by video from jail. He appeared calm, keeping his cuffed hands on his lap, as a deputy stood behind him.

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Richard Bombik said there was no evidence that Sowell is insane.

"There seems to be a distinct pattern that he engages in and if he wants to call it madness, there's a distinct method to that madness," he said outside court. "I don't see anything in his background to suggest that he has a mental illness. It's just a, quite frankly, a psychopath."

An insanity defense requires a finding that the person suffers from a severe mental illness and cannot distinguish between right and wrong.

"I think he will fail miserably on both accounts," Bombik said.

Bombik's boss, Prosecutor Bill Mason, said in announcing the 85-count indictment on Tuesday that any heinous crime would raise concerns about an insanity defense but that he was satisfied Sowell knew what he was doing.

"Based on some of the victims and some of the things he's done, he knew what he was doing was wrong at the time he was doing it," Mason said.

Sowell's court-appointed defense attorney, Brian McGraw, attended the arraignment but said later he didn't know if he would continue to handle the case and couldn't comment.

Geoffrey Mearns, law school dean at Cleveland State University, said Sowell might have a hard time proving he is insane if prosecutors demonstrate he buried the bodies to conceal wrongdoing.

"If you didn't think it was wrong, why are you burying the bodies?" he said.

When the legal defense team is settled, psychiatric testing is likely. The issue will be handled by the trial judge beginning with a pretrial hearing Monday.

Sowell was indicted Tuesday on charges that include murder, rape, assault and corpse abuse. The indictment accuses him of murdering 11 women and attacking three others who survived. He could get the death penalty if convicted of any of the killings.

The prosecutor asked for $14 million bond _ $1 million for each victim _ but Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Eileen J. Gallagher ordered Sowell jailed without bond. He had said in a court appearance last month that he couldn't afford an attorney, so making such a high bond is likely beyond his means.

Authorities have said Sowell lured vulnerable women, typically homeless or living alone and with drug or alcohol addictions, to his home and attacked them. Of the 11 alleged murder victims, all black women, 10 have been identified. The remains of 10 women and a skull were found in his home and buried in the yard.

A search of Sowell's former home on Wednesday turned up no new bodies, the FBI said.