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Convicted Cleveland serial killer will not be eligible for parole

By the CNN Wire Staff
Convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell was found guilty of 11 counts of aggravated murder from 2007 to 2009.
Convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell was found guilty of 11 counts of aggravated murder from 2007 to 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Anthony Sowell was declared not eligible for parole Wednesday
  • Sowell was convicted Friday on 84 counts, including murdering 11 women from 2007 to 2009
  • His sentencing hearing begins August 1
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(CNN) -- Convicted Ohio serial killer Anthony Sowell won't be eligible for parole after being classified as a "sexually violent predator," court officials in Cleveland said Wednesday.

Sowell was found guilty of 11 counts of aggravated murder and more than 70 other charges Friday in a string of deaths of Cleveland-area women from 2007 to 2009. Officer Ryan Miday, a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office, said Sowell's classification as a sexually violent predator guarantees that he can only receive life in prison without parole or the death penalty when the sentencing phase of his trial begins August 1.

The jury could have recommended parole if members believed Sowell could be rehabilitated, according to Greg Popovich, the Cuyahoga County court administrator.

During the sentencing phase, Sowell will be able to make a statement on his own behalf without being under oath or facing cross-examination, Miday said. The defense also can call expert witnesses to discuss Sowell's background, including his childhood and military service.

If jurors decide to recommend death, the judge can intervene and impose a life sentence -- but if the jury recommends life, the judge cannot impose a death sentence, according to Popovich.

Jurors found Sowell guilty on a total of 84 counts, including abusing corpses and kidnapping. The sole not-guilty verdict came on an aggravated robbery charge.

The convictions ended a saga that began for investigators in October 2009 with the discovery of the first two sets of victims' remains inside Sowell's home. Eventually, they blamed him for the slayings of at least 11 women, ages 25 to 52.

Sowell had served 15 years in prison for attempted rape before being released in 2005. People who met him after his release described him as "a normal guy," known locally for selling scrap metal.

His inconspicuous two-story home sat in a dilapidated neighborhood known as Mount Pleasant, where one in five homes was in foreclosure and at least a third of residents got food stamps, according to a 2010 study by Case Western Reserve University's Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. Neighbors and even a city councilman had failed to realize that the stench wafting in the area around Sowell's residence was from human flesh and not a byproduct of a nearby sausage factory.

The disappearances of the women -- many of whom lived nearby -- went largely unnoticed for almost two years, with only four of them even being reported missing. Many of his alleged victims struggled with drug addiction at some point in their lives, with court records showing that many resorted to stealing and prostitution to support their habits.

In late 2008, Gladys Wade told police that a man in a gray hoodie offered her beer, and when she declined, he punched her in the face several times. Wade said that he then tried to rape her, dragging her toward his home, adding that she got out only after "gouging his face."

Police investigated Wade's complaint, with one police report noting blood droplets on Sowell's walls and steps. But officers told CNN affiliate WKYC that the case was dropped after Wade declined to press charges. Six more women disappeared after her complaint.

Authorities discovered the bodies after a 36-year-old Cleveland woman told police a story eerily similar to those of Wade and the woman whose 1989 account led to Sowell's first conviction for attempted rape. She said he'd invited her into his home for beer, punched her in the face, then began performing oral sex on her -- releasing her only after she promised to return the next day.

Most of the women whose remains were found in and around Sowell's home were strangled by ligature -- which can include a string, cord or wire -- and at least one was strangled by hand, officials said. Seven still had ligatures wrapped around their necks. A skull is all that remains of one victim. It was found wrapped in a paper bag and stuffed in a bucket in the home's basement.

Sowell's lawyers have declined previous requests by CNN to explain their case, and the suspect has not been interviewed.

CNN's Chris Perry contributed to this report.