Sentencing 2: Anthony Sowell trial

Sowell's nieces testify about childhood abuse

CLEVELAND - Follow along with NewsChannel5 web producer Jen Steer during the sentencing phase of the trial for convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell. Check @WEWScourt for more.

On the second day of testimony in the sentencing phase for convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell, three of his family members took the stand.

In July, Sowell was convicted on 82 of 83 counts, including aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping. Police found the bodies of 11 women decomposing in and around his Imperial Avenue house in October and November 2009.

Fifty-year-old Leona Davis and her siblings moved in with Sowell, his mother and his grandmother when she was 8 years old.

"I think I was about 10 or 11 and everything change. Like me and Anthony would fight all the time," Leona Davis said. "His mom would beat us all the time… We got tied up to a pole and she would beat us." Davis said she was sexually abused by Sowell, who is her uncle. He was only a year older than her.

Davis, her twin sister Ramona Davis and her brother Jesse Hatcher all said they were surprised to hear about the gruesome discovery on Cleveland's east side.

"I saw him on the TV, but I wasn't sure it was him," Davis said. "When I saw the house on the TV, I knew it was him… I was mad, but in a way, I was kind of happy that everything came out."

Later in the day, Sowell's high school girlfriend and the mother of his daughter takes the stand. Sowell laughed as she answered the questions about how they met and stories from when they lived together. Twyla Austin said she found out she was pregnant at the age of 17 and Sowell was in the Marines. The two lost touch during his prison sentence for a rape charge.

"I think prison is for punishment, so I didn't find any reason to communicate with him," Austin said.


4:05 p.m.: I've been told that Anthony Sowell is set to make an unsworn statement before the week is over. Judge Ambrose has given his defense team special permission to ask him questions to guide Sowell through the testimony.

3:54 p.m.: Judge Dick Ambrose dismisses the jury and quickly addresses merging the aggravated murder counts, before adjourning for the day.

3:49 p.m.: Bell walks over to fellow assistant prosecutor Pinkey Carr's computer, which is on the Cuyahoga County courts website. Bell quickly asks for Austin's birthdate, then asked if she was arrested in 1997. Although Austin said she never had a drug problem, she did plead guilty to possession.

"That was what was plea-bargained out," Austin tells Bell. The court docket for "Twila Austin," not Twyla lists a plea for attempted possession of drugs in 1997.

3:43 p.m.: During cross-examination of Twyla Austin, Lauren Bell asked about the living arrangements at the house on Page Avenue. Austin told Bell that Sowell never said anything about the house not being a safe place for children, or that he had been abused there. Bell also brings up that Leona and Ramona Davis' sister, Monica, was 17 years old when she was kicked out of the house for being pregnant. That was the same age Austin was when she became pregnant, but she was never ridiculed by Sowell's mother.

"There was no set visitation schedule? He wasn't trying to get custody of her?" Bell said. "He was in prison for 15 years and you lost touch with him?"

3:27 p.m.: Austin said she lost touch with Sowell during his time in prison. When he got out in 2005, she had already moved to Arkansas.

"I think prison is for punishment, so I didn't find any reason to communicate with him," Austin said.

Defense attorney John Parker asked her what she thought about the 11 bodies found at Sowell's house on Imperial Avenue, a house she had visited when it was still occupied by Sowell's step-mother Sojourna.

"It still hasn't really sunk in, I think. It's unbelievable," Austin said.

3:19 p.m.: "There were were French doors that went to the back porch, with curtains," Austin said. "There was a toy hanging in the curtains and I was wondering 'How that toy get in there?' Well, it was a opossum." She said Sowell scooped it up in a basket and let it go outside. "I thought he would beat it with a broom." The 51-year-old convicted serial killer leans back in his chair laughing, with his attorney Rufus Sims smiling next to him.

3:12 p.m.: Austin tells the jury about the time she spent at the house on Page Avenue. She said the house was large, like a "mini mansion" with an intercom system and two kitchens.

"Later on, when my daughter was 8 or 9, they didn't get along so well," Austin said about Sowell's mother and grandmother. Claudia Garrison, Sowell's mom, worked at a dry cleaner and Republic Steel, and she bought things in bulk "before that was popular." According to Austin, they would buy food even though there was plenty around.

Sowell smiles and holds back a laugh, as Austin talks about sneaking out of the house with Sowell's younger sister, Tressa.

2:55 p.m.: Anthony Sowell is smiling, trying to hold it in as the next woman

takes the stand. Twyla Austin, 50, said she met Sowell when she was 17 and going to school at Shaw High.

"We exchanged phone numbers and started dating," Austin said. She said the two of them were together only four or five months, but they spent a lot of time with each other, watching TV. He later joined the Marines.

"That's when I found out I was pregnant," Austin said. "We used to write letters to each other." Sowell mouths "on the phone."

"Well, I was dating someone else," Austin said. Sowell throws his head back, shaking off her answer. She said her daughter, whose name they do not say, was about 2 when she moved in with Sowell's family on Page Avenue. The defendant's bottom lip quivers, as he looks on at the mother of his child.

2:34 p.m.: Lucci said Sowell worked at Custom Rubber in 2006 and she would meet with him multiple times a week, but she didn't know why he stopped working at the company. While answering Bombik's questions, she said that they run a background check on the clients, but "it's not our agency's policy" to look further into their past crimes. Most of the time, they simply ask the client about the details surrounding their convictions.

2:21 p.m.: "Obviously, you're not going to send a sex offender to a day care," assistant prosecuting attorney Rick Bombik said. "Was it something along the lines of having sex with someone for drugs?"

"No," Lucci replied. "I saw him have a weight loss and not look as healthy as he initially did."

2:09 p.m.: "He attended our job-readiness program and I worked with him to find employment," Deborah Lucci said. Lucci works will ex-offenders after they complete the workshop. "We talked about what work he would like to do, what work he had done in the past."

"Initially, I remember him because he was fairly articulate and very forth-coming about his convictions," Lucci said. "Came clothes-pressed and good attendance."

1:51 p.m.: Larkins tells Carr that he didn't feel the need to review Sowell's case file before coming into court.

"I really didn't have much interactions with Mr. Sowell," Larkins said. "The statement about the girlfriend really stands out."

"Everybody who comes through the program has a felony conviction," Larkins said. "It was rape."

1:37 p.m.: The next man on the stand is Gary Larkins and he doesn't want to be shown on camera. He is a case manager at Towards Employment, helping people who just got out of prison find work. Defense attorney Rufus Sims shows him exhibit D4, which is Anthony Sowell's case file from the program. Those in the program go through four weeks of training, including job interviews, writing resumes and filing out applications.

Assistant prosecutor Pinkey Carr leads the cross-examination. Larkins said he did not review Sowell's file before today and was not sure why he was subpoenaed to court.

"When he first entered the program he was pretty scratched up and he indicated that he had been beat up by his girlfriend," Larkins said. Other than that, Larkins has little memory of his interactions with Sowell. "Once again, my job is to identify any barriers to employment and that would be a barrier."

He reads from Sowell's file: "He has a stalker and she is related to the mayor."

12:44 p.m.: Many speculate it is unlikely that today's witnesses did anything to help Sowell's case. All three of them said they were abused by Sowell's mother, Claudia Garrison, but never saw Sowell abused. One of the women even testified that while she was 10 or 11 and Sowell was just a year older, that he raped her on a regular, almost daily basis. Will the jury sympathize with a person accused of raping his niece when he was 11 years old? The three witnesses also said that they never beat their own children, or used drugs or alcohol.

12:08 p.m.: Hatcher said he ran away from that house and when he would return, his older brother would hide him in the basement. Years later, he said he went back to Claudia Garrison's house on Page Avenue. That's the same time Anthony Sowell got out of the Marines.

"He didn't like people touching his stuff… He had a certain way he folds his clothes from the military. Certain way he made the bed," Hatcher said.

11:44 a.m.: A man walks up to the witness stand and says his name is Jesse Hatcher, 48, but some people call him by his middle name, Darnell. Hatcher is a half-brother of Leona and Ramona Davis, and lived on Page Avenue with Sowell and his mother.

"It was OK at the start, then things started changing. Beatings and punishments," Hatcher said. "It will happen with an extension cord or a water hose and we would lay over a chair. She would beat us until she drew blood or left marks."

Hatcher said that the girls were treated differently from the boys and that he was able to get away with more. Now, at age 48, Hatcher has four children between the ages of 4 and 22.

"I do not punish my kids. I do not beat my kids. I don't let anymore touch my kids."

11:35 a.m.: "Who's Tony? Anthony? Oh, I call him Anthony," Davis

said to assistant prosecutor Pinkey Carr.

"I used to go past that house all the time," Davis said. "When found out about all them bodies in the house… And I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it." After she was subpoenaed just a few days ago, Davis said she started having bad dreams about the abuse she suffered as a child. I cannot see Davis' face as Carr asks if she's ever heard voices or tried to kill anyone, but based on Carr's reaction Davis must look surprised.

"I know it's a strange question," Carr said. Davis answered no to all of the questions she found bizarre.

11:22 a.m.: Davis said life with her mother was much better than living with her grandmother or great grandmother.

"Irene would use her cane, but Gertrude would use whatever she could get her hands on," Davis said. She said only her and her siblings would be beat, not Anthony Sowell or his sister.

11:08 a.m.: "One time I told my teacher and she sent me to the nurse," Davis said. "She was asking how I got these welts."

"We couldn't trust the police because if we told them, it would somehow get back to her (Sowell's mother)," Davis said.

10:54 a.m.: After a morning break, Ramona Davis takes the witness stand. She is Leona's twin sister and Anthony Sowell's niece. She speaks quietly into the microphone and does not wish to be photographed.

"It was terrible," Davis said. "We got beat a lot. With sticks, extension cords, switches and she would use her hand."

10:33 a.m.: In a long series of questions Carr asks Davis, if she ever abused her own children, if she used drugs or alcohol or is her ever had any run-ins with the law because of her childhood. Davis' eyes widen and she shakes her head no, saying "I didn't want to continue the cycle." Carr has made her point.

10:20 a.m.: Davis told assistant prosecutor Pinkey Carr that Sowell came to her house when she was an adult, but she told her children to go inside the house.

"Scared," Davis said. "That he was going to hurt me again." About 30 years later, she saw Sowell on the news.

"I saw him on the TV, but I wasn't sure it was him," Davis said. "When I saw the house on the TV, I knew it was him… I was mad, but in a way, I was kind of happy that everything came out." Carr asked Davis if she thought about hurting herself, others or Sowell when she found out about what happened on Imperial Avenue. Davis glances across the courtroom at her uncle, who just sits stone-faced. She softly says "no."

10:09 a.m.: While the house she lived in with Sowell's mother was clean and there was "more than enough to eat," Davis said she didn't want to leave the juvenile facility.

"That's when I really started acting up because the more I acted up, the more than kept me there," Davis said.

Yesterday in the courtroom was the first time she had seen her uncle, Anthony Sowell, since she was 21 years old.

"You described a life, a rough life," Carr asked. "Did you ever have any thoughts about hurting anyone? About killing anyone?" Davis calmly answers no, but she did try to hurt herself when she shot herself in the stomach.

9:54 a.m.: Before ending his questioning, Parker asked Davis if there is anything else she would like to tell the jury, but the prosecution objects. She said she forgives Anthony Sowell for the sexually abuse. Assistant prosecuting attorney Pinkey Carr steps up to the middle of the room for cross-examination of Sowell's niece.

"Me and him got into a fist fight in the kitchen. But I got tired of fighting and went upstairs," Davis said. She said she was sexually abused by Sowell on a regular basis and she didn't tell Sowell's mother because she was afraid of her.

During the time she was living with Sowell's mother, Davis said she never saw Anthony or his sister, Tressa, receive a beating. She said Sowell would watch as she was naked and repeatedly hit with a cane or extension cord.

9:41 a.m.: Davis said when she was 10 she was sexually abused by Anthony Sowell, whose was only a year older than her. She was also abused by her brother and her uncle around the same time in her life.

"I knew I had a little sister there, and I knew what happened to me would happen to her," Davis said. "I hated the police because they didn't help."

9:26 a.m.: Davis said that while she was living with Sowell's mother and grandmother the abuse became so bad that she lit a match.

"That's when I decided to set a fire to get out of there," Davis said. "I was thinking that maybe this could get me out of the house." Davis ran away when she was 12 and told police that she was being abused.

9:07 a.m.: Court is back in session in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Dick Ambrose's courtroom on the 18th floor of the Justice Center. Anthony Sowell, 51, is seated in between his two attorneys, when defense attorney John Parker stands up to continue questioning Leona Davis, Sowell's niece. She was 8 or 9 when she moved in with Sowell's mother, Claudia Garrison.

"I think I was about 10 or 11 and everything change. Like me and Anthony

would fight all the time," Leona Davis said. "His mom would beat us all the time… We got tied up to a pole and she would beat us."

Davis said if her or her siblings did not complete their chores properly, Garrison would order them to take off their clothes, tie them to the banister and beat them with "a cord or whatever she could find."

8:46 a.m.: Monday was the first day of the sentencing phase for convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell, which is the first death penalty case in Cuyahoga County since 2007.

In July, a jury found Sowell guilty on 82 counts, including aggravated murder, in the deaths of 11 women, whose remains were found in and around his house on Cleveland's east side in 2009. He is eligible for the death penalty.

During the mitigation phase of the trial, the same jury that convicted him will hear from Sowell's defense team why they should spare his life, giving him life in prison.

"It should be a tough decision because the state of Ohio has asked you to eliminate this man," defense attorney John Parker said.

A forensic psychologist told the jury about an evaluation he did on Sowell in 2010, where he performed 45 to 50 tests.

"Essentially, he has indications of brain dysfunction," Dr. Dale Watson said.

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