CLEVELAND – A woman recounted a night of terror Wednesday in the trial of a man charged with killing 11 women, telling jurors that she was brutally raped for several hours and that she saw a decapitated body in his home.
Struggling to speak between sobs, the 37-year-old woman said she was attacked by Anthony Sowell in September 2008 after she met him on the street while she was out looking for drugs. She said he invited her back to his home on Imperial Avenue, where police later unearthed the remains of 11 women in late 2009.
The woman said Sowell, 51, suddenly attacked her after he took a hit from a crack cocaine pipe.
"He turned around and punched me in my face," she said, sobbing. "And told me to take my clothes off."
The woman said Sowell raped her for several hours and threatened to lock her in a closet if she didn't do what he wanted. Throughout the alleged attack, she said he kept ranting about his ex-girlfriend and women who smoked crack who "did him wrong."
"He told me nobody could hear me, nobody would hear me scream," she said. "He would tell me, 'you weren't like the others.'"
Sowell watched the woman's testimony impassively, sitting with his chin propped on his hand.
The woman dissolved into hysterics when Prosecutor Richard Bombik asked her to describe what she saw when Sowell allowed her to use the bathroom at one point during the alleged attack. She told the court that she was walking down the hall when she passed a room that had plastic hanging from the ceiling to the floor.
"The plastic was pulled up. And I saw something on the floor," she said. "It looked like it was a body. And it had no head on it."
The woman struggled to speak as she recalled that the body was "propped up sitting on the floor and it was taped up."
"I kept thinking to myself, I couldn't have seen what I saw," she said. "This is not possible, this is not real."
She told jurors that at various times during the attack, Sowell would "pop out of it" and go back to talking normally. At one point, she said, he told her that he had an "insatiable sexual appetite."
"All I could do was pray," she said. "And try and keep calm and agree with what he said."
The Associated Press generally does not identify sexual assault victims. The woman said she struggled with drug addiction for years but recently sobered up.
The woman said Sowell raped her many times throughout the night. At some point in the morning, she said, he called his sister and talked about plans to get together for dinner and make macaroni and cheese.
The woman said the attack occurred on the third floor of the home, which she described as "stale, just musty, stinky, dirty."
"It was just like dark and gloomy," she testified. "You could feel the gloom."
Sowell has pleaded not guilty to killing the women and faces the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors say he lured the women into his home with the promise of drugs and alcohol. The bodies were found in late 2009 after a SWAT team showed up to arrest Sowell on a separate rape and felonious assault warrant.
The woman said Sowell allowed her to leave the morning after the attack. She said she called police and tried to file a report and was told that she needed to come down to the station in person, but she refused. She didn't officially report the attack until after the bodies were found in Sowell's home.
The woman broke down again when Bombik produced a photograph of Leshanda Long, one of the victims, whose skull was found in a bucket in Sowell's basement. When Bombik asked if she knew Long, the woman nodded and began to cry again.
"That was my girl Thick," she said, using Long's nickname. The woman said she and Long used to roam the streets on drugs together.
Long, 25, disappeared in August 2008. The rest of her body was never recovered.
Bombik also showed the woman a photograph of Kim Yvette Smith, whose body was unearthed in Sowell's backyard. The woman testified that she also knew Smith, whom she referred to as "Candy."
"We used in a common place," the woman said. "And she was always there. She was always there."
Testimony is expected to resume on Thursday.