CLEVELAND - Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Dick Ambrose will be on the bench when accused serial killer Anthony Sowell goes to trial on June 6.
Ambrose was selected to oversee the case by a random drawing after Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold was removed by the Ohio Supreme Court. During his time on the case, Ambrose has denied trial delays and approved funds for Sowell's defense.
Ambrose denied a motion by Sowell that sought to keep statements he made to police when he was arrested out of court. Defense attorneys Rufus Sims and John Parker claimed that Sowell was incapable of voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights upon his arrest due to "his mental state." The defense pointed to one part of the 12-hour interrogation, conducted on two separate days, in which Sowell told officers that he heard "voices" telling him not to enter the room on the third floor of his home, where some of the bodies were found.
In his ruling, Ambrose wrote that the defense had not shown that Sowell was suffering from a psychosis when he waived his rights or that he was unable to make "free and rational choices." Ambrose ruled that Sowell did not say anything or exhibit any behavior on video that would indicate he was hearing voices or experiencing delusions during the interrogation. Sowell was given adequate warning of his Miranda rights and waived those rights in the presence of police officers and in writing on at least two occasions, the judge wrote.
During Sowell's first pretrial hearing before Ambrose, a new trial date was set for Sept. 7, 2010. That was just one of several delays in the trial.
"Be prepared to go to trail on June 6," Ambrose told Sowell's defense attorneys during a pretrial hearing. While the defense team motioned for a change of venue and requested other delays, Ambrose stood firm on the June start.
"We are seriously trying to prepare, but we will not be ready by June 6. We are bringing it to the court's attention now and asking for continuance," defense attorney John Parker said.
From the start of the trial, Judge Ambrose was strict about the media's involvement. He issued a court order that there will be no interviews on the 18th floor of the Justice Center, he carefully regulated when the camera is on and off and didn't even want to allow the media in for jury selection. Attorneys for WEWS and the Plain Dealer filed motions early on to allow the media to describe the members of the jury and permit a select few to go into Sowell's house during the jury view. Since then, communications between Judge Ambrose and the media has improved.
Ambrose went to college at the University of Virginia before going to the Cleveland Marshall College of Law. From 1987 to 2004, he was a civil trial attorney. Since 2004, Ambrose has been a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge.