Case of accused Ohio serial killer goes to jury

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 20, 2011 10:18 PM
Case of accused Ohio serial killer goes to jury

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The fate of accused Ohio serial killer Anthony Sowell, charged with killing 11 women whose remains were dumped around his home, was in the hands of a jury on Wednesday after lawyers wrapped up their final arguments.

The jury will now weigh the evidence and decide if Sowell is guilty of the 83 charges against him.

Sowell, 51, could face the death penalty if found guilty of the murders. Police discovered the first two bodies in 2009 after executing a search warrant for Sowell's arrest in response to an assault and rape charge.

Over the next week, more women's bodies were found in Sowell's Cleveland house and buried in shallow graves in the backyard.

In closing arguments on Wednesday, attended by family members of many of the victims, the prosecution called Sowell a "vile and disgusting" serial killer.

But defense lawyers who rested their case on Tuesday without calling a single witness, ridiculed the state's case, describing the crime scene investigation as "unorganized and incomplete".

They also questioned the credibility of some of the women who testified against Sowell, including one the state says he raped but did not kill.

Prosecutor Rick Bombik spent over two hours taking the jury through all the events that led up to Sowell's arrest, and revisited the deaths of all 11 women, detailing where and how their bodies were found.

"She (Crystal Dozier) was the first victim of Anthony Sowell," Bombik told the jury as he explained how competently she was wrapped in plastic before being buried.

"I don't know if he got lazy or ran out of material but all of the other wrappings were less sophisticated."

Jurors also had another look at some of the gruesome autopsy photos and re-watched a short piece of surveillance video of a naked Sowell standing over a naked woman in the alleyway next to his house.

The jury needs to find Sowell guilty of aggravated murder, rather than the lesser charge of murder, in order for the death penalty to apply. Aggravated murder is defined as a crime with prior calculation and design.

"This is not complicated. Do not make it complicated," Bombik told jurors. "Label him for what he is: a serial killer, and a vile and disgusting one at that."

Sowell's defense attorney, John Parker, questioned the credibility of women who testified against him, reminding jurors that "all of these five witnesses who came to testify have cleaned up their lives," since their run-ins with the defendant.

He called the crime scene investigation incomplete and said police had never looked for another suspect.

"He deserves better. This man is an honorably discharged Marine," Parker shouted. "The 11 women who were found deserve better. You deserve better.

Jurors began deliberation in the late afternoon and will be sequestered until they reach a verdict.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Cynthia Johnston)