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Sentencing phase to begin for convicted Ohio serial killer

By the CNN Wire Staff
Anthony Sowell was convicted on July 22 of 11 counts of aggravated murder and dozens of other charges.
Anthony Sowell was convicted on July 22 of 11 counts of aggravated murder and dozens of other charges.
  • Anthony Sowell will receive life in prison without parole or the death penalty
  • He was convicted of killing 11 Cleveland-area women between 2007 and 2009
  • He has been classified as a "sexually violent predator"
  • The sentencing phase of Sowell's trial begins Monday

(CNN) -- An Ohio jury on Monday will begin the sentencing phase for convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell, ultimately deciding whether he should receive life in prison or the death penalty for killing 11 Cleveland-area women between 2007 and 2009.

Jurors on July 22 convicted Sowell of 11 counts of aggravated murder and more than 70 other charges, including abusing corpses and kidnapping. The sole not-guilty verdict came on an aggravated robbery charge.

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

Sowell has been classified as a "sexually violent predator," meaning parole is not an option, Miday said.

If jurors decide to recommend that Sowell die for his crimes, the judge can overrule that recommendation and impose a life sentence. But if jurors decide to spare Sowell's life, the judge cannot impose a death sentence, said Greg Popovich, Cuyahoga County court administrator.

Sowell guilty for murders of 11 women

Sowell's convictions ended a saga that began in October 2009 with the discovery of the first two victims' remains inside Sowell's home. He eventually was accused of killing at least 11 women ranging in age from 25 to 52.

He grew up in East Cleveland, joined the Marines at age 18 and traveled to California, North Carolina and Japan, authorities said.

Sowell 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." He was known locally for selling scrap metal.

Sowell's inconspicuous two-story home sat in a dilapidated neighborhood known as Mount Pleasant, where at one point one in five homes was in foreclosure and at least a third of the residents received food stamps, according to a 2010 study by Case Western Reserve University's Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. A stench hovered around the area, but no one realized it was the scent of decaying human flesh, instead assuming it was a byproduct of a nearby sausage factory.

Many of Sowell's victims struggled with drug addiction at some point, and court records showed many resorted to stealing and prostitution to support their habits. The disappearances of the women -- many of whom lived near him -- went largely unnoticed for two years, with only four women being reported missing.

In late 2008, a woman named 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 he then attempted to rape her, dragging her toward his home, and that she escaped after "gouging his face."

Police investigated Wade's complaint, and one police report noted the presence of 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.

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

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

At Sowell's trial, his defense rested without calling any witnesses or presenting any evidence, according to CNN affiliate WOIO. His defense attorneys have declined previous requests by CNN to explain their case.