Jury tours Ohio house where 11 women killed

Jurors on Monday toured a house where accused Ohio serial killer Anthony Sowell stored the decomposing bodies of 11 women for more than two years and blamed the stench on a nearby sausage factory.

Once the horror house tour was completed, they returned to court for opening statements in the gruesome case that broke on October 29, 2009 -- and had officials scrambling to explain why the crimes weren't discovered sooner.

"You are about to begin a disturbing journey," assistant county prosecutor Richard Bombick warned the jury, describing how many of the victims were found partially naked, their decomposing bodies bound with plastic bags and electrical cords.  

"I look forward to bringing Anthony Sowell to justice," he concluded. 

Defense attorney John Parker in turn argued that the state had no DNA or forensic evidence to link Sowell to the crimes and said the crime scene was not properly handled by police.

In an opening argument that lasted about 20 minutes, he also said that the victims were troubled women whose lives ended sadly, but said they were not kidnapped.

The city's police department is also on trial.

The women allegedly killed by Sowell were poor, black and hampered by lifestyles that took them on and off the streets. That meant they weren't always immediately reported as missing.

Nor did police pay much attention to cries for help that could have saved the lives of six of his victims.

One bloodied woman flagged down police in December 2008, telling them of her desperate escape from the registered sex offender's house.

But police found she wasn't a "credible" witness and declined to press charges even though they found blood and signs of a struggle in Sowell's home.

A second woman was also ignored after she told police in April 2009 that Sowell had raped her repeatedly over a three-day period at his home after telling her that she needed to be "trained like an animal."

Then, in September 2009, a third woman went to police and told them Sowell lured her to his house, raped and strangled her with a cord, then let her go when she regained consciousness.

It wasn't until police knocked on the door of the yellow house a month later with an arrest warrant that the bodies were discovered.

The officers went inside when Sowell didn't answer their knock and followed the stench to two rotting corpses laying on a bed on the third floor.

A weeks-long search of the house and yard found eight more bodies and a human skull in a bucket.

Sowell, 51, was arrested as he walked down the street two days after the first bodies were found.

He faces the death penalty if convicted of nearly 100 charges, including kidnapping, rape, molesting a human corpse, robbery and attempted murder.

The first victim -- 36-year-old Crystal Dozier, whose remains were found buried near the backyard fence -- had not been seen since May 2007.

Then came Tishana Culver, 29, who had been missing since June 2008 and Leshanda Long, 25, who disappeared in August 2008.

Michelle Mason, 44, and Tonia Carmichael, 53, vanished in October 2008.

Several of the remaining victims could have lived if Sowell had been jailed after the December 2008 attack or April 2009 rape.

Kim Smith, 43, vanished in January 2009. Nancy Cobbs, 44, was last seen in April 2009. Amy Hunter, 47, disappeared some time in the spring of 2009.

Janice Webb, 48, and Telacia Fortson, 31, were last seen in June 2009.

Diane Turner, 38, disappeared in September 2009.

Some of their relatives watched the trial in a private room in the courthouse through a live feed.

Donnita Carmichael, daughter of victim Tonia Carmichael, and her grandmother Barbara were not allowed to watch opening statements because they have been subpoenaed to testify.

"I'm just sick of everything and I want for this to end," Carmichael told AFP.

Yvonne Williams, mother of victim Tishana Culver, lives on the street a few houses down from the crime scene and saw the jury and the media arrive at the house.
"The jury is going to get a gruesome look at how he kept that house and what he did to my daughter and those women," she said.

"I really want him to be in jail for the rest of his life so he can suffer."

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