CLEVELAND — The man who killed 11 women and dumped their remains around his property apologized Monday in front of relatives of his victims and the jury that will decide whether to recommend the death penalty.
"Well, the only thing I want to say is, I'm sorry," Anthony Sowell, 51, said in a hushed courtroom as he leaned forward during a 30-minute unsworn statement.
The prosecution wasn't allowed to cross-examine Sowell, leaving unspoken the question of why he killed the victims and attacked three other women who survived and testified against him.
After apologizing in a gravelly voice that grew stronger, Sowell added: "I know that might not sound like much, but I truly am sorry from the bottom of my heart."
Some relatives of victims wiped away tears as Sowell made his first detailed public comments since his arrest nearly two years ago. Jurors heard his voice earlier in the trial when the prosecution played a lengthy videotaped police interrogation.
"It's not typical of me. I don't know what happened. I can't explain it," he said in apologizing for the crimes. "I know it's not a lot, but that's all I can give you."
Sowell, who occasionally glanced at jurors seated steps away, was carefully guided by questions from one of his defense attorneys, John Parker.
The lawyer quickly probed Sowell's troubled childhood, his service in the Marine Corps, his 15-year prison term for attempted rape and his love of cooking before getting to Sowell's one-man crime wave.
"You know why you're here, obviously," Parker said.
"Correct," said Sowell, who sat forward in the witness seat, his hands on his lap except for brief moments of animation.
Parker gave Sowell an open-ended chance to say anything to the jurors, most of whom watched him closely. Sowell stopped short of appealing to jurors to spare his life but offered the apology. After speaking, he returned to the defense table, holding his chin up.
After state rebuttal witnesses, attorneys for both sides will make their final arguments to the jury and deliberations will begin. Like the trial verdict phase, the jury will be sequestered during deliberations.
The defense didn't call witnesses during the trial, but has used the sentencing phase to humanize Sowell and portray him sympathetically. The defense testimony has detailed a troubled childhood during which he allegedly repeatedly raped a 10-year-old niece when he was 11.
Police said that beginning in 2007, Sowell lured women to his home with the promise of alcohol or drugs. Police began finding the remains, including a skull, just before Halloween 2009 after officers went to investigate a woman's report that she had been raped there.
Many of the victims had been missing for weeks or months, and some had criminal records. They were put in garbage bags and plastic sheets, then dumped in various parts of the house and backyard.
A social worker, Lori James-Townes, testified earlier Monday that Sowell had an "extremely horrible" childhood marked by abuse, an absent father and seeing nieces whipped almost daily.
The home environment "had a horrific cumulative effect" on Sowell, she testified. She narrated a family tree going back generations that includes sexual abuse, promiscuity, absent fathers, epilepsy, heart problems, drug abuse and mental illness.
Under cross-examination by assistant Prosecutor Pinkey Carr, the witness said there was no documented evidence of abuse, sexual or otherwise, of Sowell as a youngster. The report that Sowell had been sexually abused came from him, James-Townes testified.