CLEVELAND – A serial killer who dumped the remains of 11 women in and around his home deserves a new trial because a juror expressed horror during a jury visit to the scene and complained after the verdict that he had winked at her during the trial, according to a court document filed by his defense team.
The new trial request was filed Friday morning, just hours before Anthony Sowell, 51, was sentenced to death by Judge Dick Ambrose. The conviction and death sentence will be appealed automatically to the state Supreme Court.
One of Sowell's defense attorneys, Rufus Sims, said Monday that the motion had been filed prematurely and that the defense was working on a replacement. He said the defense must wait until 14 days after the sentencing before it can request a new trial.
Assistant prosecutor Richard Bombik said he was confident that neither issue would lead to a new trial.
Anyone going to Sowell's Cleveland house might react with disgust, he said. And it wouldn't be fair to grant a new trial to a defendant who causes a courtroom stir with a wink or a smile, he said.
"He can't set something in motion and then hide behind it," Bombik said.
A defense attorney and visiting professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Mike Benza, said the issues might be grounds for concern.
The jury visit is intended to give jurors a sense of the place but isn't evidence, said Benza, who isn't involved in the Sowell case. The wink issue might turn on whether the juror made a verdict decision based on eye contact with the defendant, he said.
The motion seeking a new trial cited comments made by the jury forewoman after the trial that Sowell winked at her in what she believed was an attempt to win favorable treatment.
"It is clear from the news articles that at least the jury forewoman was offended by the defendant's eye contact and was prejudiced against the defendant as a result," the defense motion said.
If the juror had mentioned the eye contact during the judge's daily admonitions, the motion said, the judge "could have determined whether the juror had any bias for or against the defendant or state."
The defense motion, citing news stories, also said the juror may have developed a bias against Sowell when the jury visited his house before testimony began.
The forewoman said after the verdict that the jury's visit to the Sowell house gave her an overwhelming sense of sadness.
"I started to cry," she said. "I knew something horrible happened in that house."
Jurors spoke to reporters after the verdict with the understanding they would not provide their names. The judge hasn't released the jurors' names, which were requested last week by The Associated Press.
The murdered women began disappearing in 2007, and prosecutors say Sowell 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 found in Sowell's home 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.
The rotting bodies created an overpowering stench that neighbors blamed on an adjacent sausage factory, whose owner spent $20,000 on new plumbing fixtures and sewer lines, to no avail.
Associated Press writer Meghan Barr contributed to this report.