Judge OKs use of evidence from other alleged attacks on women in Ohio serial-killer trial

By Thomas J. Sheeran, AP
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Attack evidence OK’d in Ohio serial-killer case

CLEVELAND — Prosecutors can present trial evidence about women who say they survived attacks by a suspected serial killer charged in the deaths of 11 women, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold granted the motion by prosecutors, who expect to submit evidence involving three or four women who say they survived attacks by Anthony Sowell, 50.

The prosecution wants jurors to hear evidence from survivors to show a pattern, assistant prosecutor Richard Bombik said. “They were all very similar,” he said.

“The only difference between them and the 11 homicide victims is they escaped and lived to talk about it,” Bombik said. “It all shows a pattern on his part.”

The defense had asked the judge to rule out the survivor evidence.

Sowell, who sat handcuffed and watched impassively during the pretrial hearing, has pleaded not guilty to charges including aggravated murder, rape, assault and corpse abuse.

He could get the death penalty if convicted of any of the killings.

Authorities have said he lured vulnerable women, typically homeless or living alone and with drug or alcohol addictions, to his home and attacked them. Their remains were found in and around his home last fall.

The defense team of John Parker and Rufus Sims told the judge they cannot be ready for the scheduled June 2 trial date. The defense hasn’t received copies of DNA evidence or autopsy reports and hasn’t lined up outside experts to challenge the evidence, they said.

The judge turned aside a request to postpone the trial and told the defense to keep working with an eye toward a June trial.

The judge also said she was concerned about news media distractions and said she might consider banning reporters from the trial. She didn’t elaborate but made the comment during a discussion of a leaked psychiatric report on Sowell.

The report, first covered in November by The Plain Dealer newspaper, led Saffold to threaten last week to arrest the reporter who wrote the story if the source of the leak wasn’t disclosed. She backed off when another judge said he had leaked the report.

The defense pressed the judge to hold a hearing on the leak, which they argued calls into question the integrity of the judiciary in Cleveland and risks Sowell’s chance for a fair trial in Cleveland. The defense wants the trial moved elsewhere.

The judge said she didn’t think Sowell’s right to a fair trial had been jeopardized.

Bombik said Sowell’s trial would attract widespread media attention even if it were moved out of Cleveland.

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