CLEVELAND – A man charged with killing 11 women and dumping their remains around his property told police that he began losing control of his anger about the time the victims started disappearing, according to an interrogation video played Thursday for jurors.
Anthony Sowell, 51, dressed in a pale yellow shirt, pushed back in his chair at the defense table as he watched the video of himself smoking and sipping coffee as detectives questioned him about a sexual-assault complaint that led officers to his home in 2009.
Sowell has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Detectives initially focused during the eight-hour interrogation on the sexual-assault complaint. Sowell disputed the allegation, but officers responded that the woman told police that she had been violently attacked.
Interrogators then turned to Sowell's property, where at the time five bodies and a skull had been found in the house and five more eventually were found buried in the backyard.
Asked about a discovery on the third floor, Sowell's easygoing attitude quickly disappeared, and he began rubbing his head, taking deep breaths and rhythmically rocking in a chair in a police office cubicle.
"It might be the most important 15 minutes of your life," an officer told Sowell.
"I don't know, I don't know what happened," Sowell responded in the video. Asked by a detective when he started losing control of his anger, Sowell said 2008 or 2009.
The victims, many struggling with addictions and troubled lives, disappeared starting in October 2007. The last one vanished in September 2009.
In the video, the detectives prodded Sowell with supportive comments and encouraged him to be forthcoming.
"You gotta tell us," one said. "These things happen. That happens. That's what we're going to talk about."
Officers offered a fresh cup of coffee to try to settle down Sowell, who was tapping his feet and crossing and uncrossing his legs.
"Can you name some of the people?" an officer asked, saying families wanted to know what happened to their loved ones.
"I don't remember names," Sowell responded.
The video was introduced in court by the lead interrogator, Lt. Michael Baumiller.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney John Parker said Baumiller must have known questioning Sowell about the sexual-assault complaint would lead to a discussion of the bodies.
"Not really," responded Baumiller, who said the direction of questions can be influenced by what answers emerge. "You've got to run with it."
When the tape showed Baumiller turning over the interrogation to officers investigating the bodies, the jury took a lunch break. The homicide detectives were scheduled to testify next about the video and their handling of the bulk of Sowell's questioning.
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