Anthony Sowell, an Ohio man accused of killing eleven women and then disposing of their bodies on his property, faced potential jurors for the first time on Monday. Two hundred men and women from whom will likely come the group that chooses Sowell’s fate were greeted with a simple “Hello” from the possible serial killer as jury selection began in a Cuyahoga County courtroom.
Sowell, who I have featured before on this blog, is facing 85 counts of rape, murder, and dismemberment for acts that occurred between 2007 and 2009. He focused on women who were struggling with addiction and, after raping them, would strangle them to death. He was able to continue his horrible attacks for several years because most of the women he targeted where never even reported missing and the smell of decaying bodies that emanated from his house was attributed to a nearby sausage factory.
The large group of jurors was divided into smaller groups of fifteen and then the judge led each one through an orientation, including an extensive conversation about each person’s views on the death penalty. This process lasted well into the dinner hour, with more potential jurors to receive their initial evaluation tomorrow. The jurors who ultimately are selected for this trial should expect to spend six to eight weeks offering their services to the case.
Most of us will never be asked to serve on a jury that receives the level of publicity and the time commitment that the Sowell jurors will face. But, you likely will be called to jury duty at some point, if you haven’t already. For those who have been asked to show up and be vetted for a jury, what was your experience like? Are there any moments that stand out to you in the process?
What are your feelings about being a juror in a case like this?
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I received notice for jury duty when I was living in Memphis. I sat in the pool for almost two full days, then I was called along with several others. We went across the street to the courthouse and through all the security and sat outside the courtroom. The plan was for us to be considered as members of the jury on the trial of a multiple murderer. I remember some of the people were saying how frightened they were of the whole process and even more frightened of possible retaliation if they found a murderer guilty. I found myself feeling very discouraged at that type of attitude, even though potential retalitation was a real possibility.
We sat there forever it seemed, then were told to return to the pool since one of the attorneys had asked for a continuance and it had been approved. I was never called again and my entire 'jury service' was spent reading paperback novels.
I was disappointed since I would have been willing to serve on a jury, or even on the grand jury. They had selected individuals from the pool for that right from the beginning. Once we returned, some of the others who had been called with me expressed their relief that they didn't have to devote any more time to this 'nonsense'. All I could think was, what if you were on trial? Who would you want to decide your fate? Would you want your jury to have the attitude you have?
I would very much like to read the comments of those who actually served on a jury to find out what the experience was like. I've seen jurors interviewed following certain cases, especially death penalty ones, and they talk about what a tremendously emotional experience the whole process was. It's not just guilty or not, death or not. They said the whole experience absolutely drains you and they were very determined to make sure they made the right decision. I can only imagine the pressure on jurors in a death penalty case, and commend those I have seen for their immense dedication.
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