Jury visits home of Ohioan charged in 11 deaths
THOMAS J. SHEERAN
CLEVELAND — Guided by flashlight and wearing face masks, jurors were met with rooms buzzing with flies and a high-heeled shoe left on a microwave Monday as they visited the home of an Ohio man charged with killing 11 women and hiding their bodies around his property.
Under a sunny blue sky, a motorcade of four vans under police escort traveled to the three-story home of 51-year-old Anthony Sowell, whose trial began with opening statements on Monday afternoon in downtown Cleveland. Jurors wore protective coverings over their shoes as they entered the home, which is surrounded by a towering metal fence. Reporters who accompanied the jury said the house smelled of mildew — and the smell grew worse as the jurors ascended from the basement to the third floor, where flies buzzed around the filthy rooms.
Some rooms were in complete disrepair, with men’s and women’s clothing piled on the floor and dresser drawers flung open. A can of malt liquor stood next to a bed on the third floor, and the mattress was covered with papers. In the basement, a wrench hung from a nail on the wall and a dead rat was found on the floor. Some rooms had pieces of foam insulation and dirt on the floor and large holes in the walls.
There were also signs of the home’s former inhabitant: food crusted over in a Pyrex dish, a Ray Charles album, a pamphlet about substance-abuse programs.
Prosecutors say Sowell lured women from his inner-city Cleveland neighborhood into his home with the promise of alcohol or drugs, then killed them. He has pleaded not guilty to killing the women and faces the death penalty if convicted.
The bodies were found buried throughout the home and backyard in November 2009. The women disappeared one by one, starting in October 2007, with the last one vanishing in September 2009. All of the victims were black, and most had traces of drugs in their bodies.
The jurors were accompanied by the judge, sheriff’s deputies and trial attorneys. The attorneys were warned in advance not to discuss the case with jurors or point anything out, and jurors were told that the visit was meant to help provide perspective for the trial. As they toured the home, jurors were instructed to take note of which room they were in.
What jurors see at the house “is not evidence, since conditions may have changed since the time of the events in this case,” Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Dick Ambrose said in a court order.