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updated 6/6/2011 1:38:32 PM ET 2011-06-06T17:38:32

Jury selection formally began Monday in the trial of a convicted sex offender who is charged with killing 11 women and hiding their remains in his Cleveland home and backyard.

Anthony Sowell, 51, was seated between his two defense attorneys as prospective jurors were led into Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Sowell has pleaded not guilty.

Sowell could face the death penalty if convicted. The trial is expected to last several weeks.

The 14 prospective jurors — 10 women and four men — mostly avoided making eye contact with Sowell. Judge Dick Ambrose emptied the courtroom after about an hour or proceedings, saying the prospective jurors would be questioned in private.

Prosecutors say Sowell lured women from the neighborhood into his home with the promise of alcohol or drugs, then killed them.

The discovery of the bodies ignited an uproar that has yet to subside, with most of the anger directed at the city's police department. Some of the victims' families allege the police never bothered to look for their loved ones because they were addicted to drugs and lived in a dangerous part of town, near Sowell's home. All of the victims were black. Most were strangled with household objects and had traces of drugs in their systems.

Residents of Mount Pleasant, Sowell's neighborhood, had complained about a rotting smell for months, but they say their complaints went unheeded.

The women disappeared one by one, starting in October 2007. The last one vanished in September 2009.

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Associated Press writer Meghan Barr contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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