Homicide

Death sentence upheld for Cleveland man who killed 11 women, hid remains in home

Anthony Sowell.

Anthony Sowell.  (AP)

Ohio's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death sentence of Anthony Sowell, who killed 11 women and buried or deposited them on his Cleveland property.

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The 5-2 decision dismissed claims from his attorneys that he deserved a new court hearing over the admissibility of his videotaped police interrogation. That evidence was played in his capital trial.

"Although Sowell's statements to police are incriminating, the state presented overwhelming independent evidence of guilt supporting Sowell's convictions and sentence," the court said.

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Sowell's crimes were uncovered in 2009 when police obtained a search warrant after a report of a woman being raped in his residence. Police found the victims' mostly nude bodies throughout his home after a woman escaped. He was sentenced in 2011.

His appellate attorneys can now ask the federal courts and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. No execution date has been set.

At issue was a 2010 hearing during which a Cleveland judge closed the courtroom while he heard arguments for and against allowing the videotaped interrogation, which lasted for more than 11 hours.

The judge ultimately allowed its use, and most of it was played during Sowell's trial.

The judge identified an overriding interest that supported closing that hearing, Justice Terrence O'Donnell said. As a result, "the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the limited closure of the courtroom," O'Donnell decided.

Justice William O'Neill and Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor dissented, saying a new hearing should be held. In "a criminal-justice system governed by the rule of law, a serial murderer's trial is subject to the same constitutional protections as the trial of a low-level thief," O'Neill wrote.

Prosecutors said Sowell's victims were recovering or current drug addicts and most died of strangulation. Some had been decapitated, and the bodies of others were so badly decomposed that coroners couldn't say with certainty how they died.

In interviews with police, Sowell said he targeted women who reminded him of his ex-girlfriend, who had been addicted to crack and left him shortly before the killings began.

Despite Thusday's ruling, an execution is not expected for years. Sowell could still appeal through the federal courts.

Killers like Sowell are the reason Ohio has a death penalty, said Christopher Schroeder, head of Cuyahoga County's capital punishment division. "Nothing less than the death penalty would ever be an appropriate sentence in this case," Schroeder said.

While Ohio plans three executions next year, it hasn't said if it has enough drugs for additional executions. Two dozen men are on the state's death row.

New lawyers for Sowell, who spent seven years as a U.S. Marine, argued a better strategy would have been to concede Sowell's overwhelming guilt and push for life without parole based on his background, including a chaotic childhood.

Sowell's trial attorneys "repeatedly directed the jurors' attention to gruesome and painfully damning evidence," according to a 2012 court filing by attorneys Jeffrey Gamso and Erika Cunliffe.

As a result, the trial attorneys looked desperate and jurors were likely irritated that it dragged out the trial, the filing said.

Gamso said Thursday that Sowell's lawyers were disappointed and would continue to pursue the case.

Fox News' Bill Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.