A serial killer will be put to death for murdering 11 women and dumping their bodies around his property, a judge ruled Friday.
Anthony Sowell should die by lethal injection for his crimes, Judge Dick Ambrose ruled, accepting the sentencing recommendation of the jury that convicted Sowell of aggravated murder.
Sowell, 51, never looked at victims' relatives as they spoke during the sentencing hearing and ignored the judge when asked if he wanted to speak. He didn't move when the judge asked him to sign a court document, with his attorney John Parker signing the sex-offender reporting requirement document on his client's behalf.
"That's his personality," defense attorney Rufus Sims said later.
Sowell, slumped back in his chair with his cuffed hands on his lap, sat impassively as the death penalty was announced, his chest heaving. He seemed to become animated late in the proceeding, sitting up and watching as the judge recalculated prison terms for lesser offenses including rape to life sentences without parole.
As the hearing began, deputies passed around boxes of tissues to the dozens of victims' relatives in the courtroom and warned against any outburst.
Sowell was arrested on Oct. 31, 2009, two days after police went to his Cleveland house on a sexual-assault complaint and began finding bodies. He went on trial in June and was convicted July 22 on 82 counts: aggravated murder, kidnapping, corpse abuse and evidence tampering.
Donnita Carmichael, 34, whose mother, Tonia Carmichael, was killed, told the judge as jurors and other relatives quietly cried that she could never forgive Sowell.
"We will continue to be here when you are long gone," said Carmichael, prompting a murmur of agreement in the court.
"We have been crying since Nov. 10, 2008," when her mother died, Carmichael said.
Outside court, she complained that Sowell had failed to show remorse during the sentencing. "There's no soul there," she said.
Florence Bray, mother of a victim and aunt of another, welcomed the death penalty. "We can find peace and move on with our lives," she said.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Pinky Carr has said the case "screamed death penalty." Her prosecution colleague, Richard Bombik, said "if this guy doesn't get the death penalty, nobody should."
Parker and Sims, Sowell's defense team, called no witnesses during the guilt phase of the trial and instead focused on sparing his life with sympathetic testimony about his troubled childhood, his Marine Corps service and good behavior while serving 15 years for attempted rape.
Sowell's victims began disappearing in 2007. Prosecutors say he 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 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. There was little left of one victim: a skull in a plastic bucket with non-human bite marks on the edge.
The rotting bodies created an overpowering stench that neighbors blamed on an adjacent sausage factory. The owner spent $20,000 on new plumbing fixtures and sewer lines, to no avail.
Most of the victims were nude from the waist down, strangled with household objects and had traces of cocaine or depressants in their systems. All the victims were black, as is Sowell.
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.
Sowell took the stand Monday to make an unsworn statement in which he apologized.
"The only thing I want to say is I'm sorry," Sowell told the jury. "I know that might not sound like much, but I truly am sorry from the bottom of my heart."
The jury didn't buy it: They said his statement, which was guided by questions from Parker, sounded rehearsed and lacked remorse.
Sowell wasn't subject to cross-examination, so prosecutors never got to ask why he killed the women and lived in the house for two years with their remains bagged in corners or buried in the backyard.