CLEVELAND – Defense attorneys for an Ohio man accused of killing 11 women and dumping their remains around his home rested their case Tuesday without calling a single witness, a surprising move that signaled a verdict might be reached much sooner than expected.
Before the announcement by Anthony Sowell's lawyers, Judge Dick Ambrose cautioned jurors to remember that the defense "has no obligation to present evidence." Then he gave the defense its opportunity to present witness testimony.
"We will rest," responded defense attorney John Parker. Sowell took a deep breath and held his hands in front of him as the jury then left the courtroom in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
Sowell, 51, has pleaded not guilty in the deaths of the 11 women who disappeared in his drug-ridden east Cleveland neighborhood starting in October 2007. Sowell could face the death penalty if convicted.
On Monday, Ambrose dropped two counts related to the death of Leshanda Long, whose skull was found in a bucket in Sowell's basement. Ambrose dropped an aggravated murder charge and a kidnapping charge, ruling that, without Long's body, prosecutors do not have enough evidence to prove Sowell held Long against her will.
The aggravated murder charge was based on the assumption that Long was killed during a kidnapping. Sowell is still charged with one count of aggravated murder in her death and faces 83 counts in total, which include aggravated murder, offenses against a human corpse, tampering with evidence, kidnapping and felonious assault.
Later Tuesday, Ambrose began reading the lengthy jury instructions on the law. He said earlier that relatives of victims who want to hear closing statements should be in court at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The instructions included a warning that jurors should not take into account that Sowell did not testify.
The prosecution had rested on Monday, wrapping up their case by showing the jury an eight-hour police interrogation of Sowell in which he said "I guess I did that" when asked about the bodies.
Defense attorney John Parker told jurors during opening statements that there is no DNA or other scientific evidence linking Sowell to the killings.
The judge also rejected a defense request to cast a narrow definition of kidnapping in jury instructions. Parker had said that kidnapping should be considered separate from strangling.
But assistant Prosecutor Pinkey Carr said that kidnapping, even in the context of a strangling, was outlined in law as a restraint of freedom. She said jurors should have the chance to decide that "the victims were restrained of their freedom."
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