THOMAS J. SHEERAN
CLEVELAND — Jury selection formally began Monday in the trial of a convicted sex offender who is charged with killing 11 women and hiding their remains in his Cleveland home and backyard.
Anthony Sowell, 51, was seated between his two defense attorneys as prospective jurors were led into Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Sowell, who has pleaded not guilty, was wearing a white polo shirt with black stripes and dark baggy pants. His head was cleanly shaved.
The 14 prospective jurors — 10 women and four men — mostly avoided making eye contact with Sowell. Judge Dick Ambrose emptied the courtroom after about an hour or proceedings, saying the prospective jurors would be questioned in private.
In a surprise secret meeting Friday, prospective jurors were introduced to Sowell behind closed doors while reporters covering the case waited on another floor for trial credentials. Ambrose had previously said jury selection would begin Monday in his courtroom.
On Monday, five deputies stood guard outside the courtroom, and members of the media and public had to pass through a metal detector on the way in, steps taken for this high-profile trial that are unusual for daily proceedings at the courthouse. The small courtroom was only about half-filled.
Sowell could face the death penalty if convicted. The trial is expected to last several weeks.
Prosecutors say Sowell lured women from the neighborhood into his home with the promise of alcohol or drugs, then killed them.
The discovery of the bodies ignited an uproar that has yet to subside, with most of the anger directed at the city’s police department. Some of the victims’ families allege the police never bothered to look for their loved ones because they were addicted to drugs and lived in a dangerous part of town, near Sowell’s home. All of the victims were black. Most were strangled with household objects and had traces of drugs in their systems.
Residents of Mount Pleasant, Sowell’s neighborhood, had complained about a rotting smell for months, but they say their complaints went unheeded.
The women disappeared one by one, starting in October 2007. The last one vanished in September 2009.