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More grisly details in trial of alleged Ohio serial killer

Anthony Sowell is pictured in an undated booking photo made available to Reuters
Anthony Sowell is pictured in an undated booking photo made available to Reuters

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Testimony in the capital murder trial of alleged serial killer Anthony Sowell continued here on Tuesday with more grisly details of the evidence authorities collected at his home.

Dr. Elizabeth Balraj, the former chief deputy coroner for Cuyahoga County who autopsied five of the bodies, spent almost two-and-a-half hours on the stand Tuesday morning as the trial entered its third week.

She and others testified the victims were strangled and bound with apparently random items, including shoe-strings, socks, a belt, a bag strap, a coaxial cable and a cell-phone charger cord.

Sowell, 51 is accused of killing 11 women and assaulting four others. Their remains were found in 2009 after police executed a search warrant at Sowell's house on a rape charge.

Sowell, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, faces the death penalty if convicted.

Police and SWAT found two bodies on the floor in a room next to Sowell's bedroom and eventually discovered three more bodies and a skull in the house and five more bodies buried in shallow graves in the back yard.

Balraj also provided more details about the state of the victim's bodies found at Sowell's house, testifying those she examined were nude or nude from the waist down, some wrapped in blankets and plastic and bound at the hands and wrists.

Sowell, wearing a light-colored short-sleeve shirt, was stoic while listening to doctor's testimony and viewing autopsy photos.

Balraj testified that the plastic bucket that held the skull of Lasanda Long had "no evidence of decomposition" and that the bucket had "non-human bite marks" around the rim.

"I couldn't draw any conclusion when the skull was placed in the bucket," Balraj admitted to prosecutor Rick Bombik.

On Balraj's cross-examination, defense attorney John Parker continued to question the validity of the date of death given to the victims, pointing out Balraj had changed the date of death for Janice Webb after a family told her she had seen her alive after the date Balraj had originally provided.

Parker also took issue with part of the autopsy report on Amelda Hunter that stated she was strangled by "a male" and asked Balraj, "How could you know that information based on her autopsy?"

Balraj said she consults police reports and uses that information to help determine cause of death. She has come under fire from local media in the past for a perceived bias toward prosecution and police.

Kristopher Kern, who had been a forensic scientist with the coroner's office, and Curtiss Jones, the supervisor of the trace evidence department with the office, also took the stand Tuesday.

Kern testified to testing a number of items of clothing and "ligatures" used in the strangulation of the bodies.

Kern identified both a shoelace and sock for the prosecution that he removed from the neck of Nancy Cobb and what looked like a cell-phone charger from Tonia Carmichael.

According to Kern, Cobb was also wrapped in six different plastic bags and a blanket when she came in for autopsy.

During his testimony, Kern described removing shoestrings from one of the wrists of one of the victims, Janice Webb, and said: "They were bound so tightly, I had to cut them to remove them."

Jones testified he removed coaxial-type cable from around the partially clothed body of Crystal Dozier and found trace fibers of blue polyester from the plastic bag around another victim.

He said those fibers were consistent with the fibers from the carpet in Sowell's bedroom and were found on the clothing of other victims.

As he has with all of the other prosecution witnesses, defense attorney Parker pointed out a mistake in Kern's reports and asked how much time he spent at the crime scene.

Parker kept Kern on cross from almost an hour-and-a-half as he went through an exhaustive list of women's clothing that was collected, tested for DNA and semen, and returned without testing positive.

The trial is scheduled to continue on Wednesday with more witnesses for the prosecution.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Jerry Norton)

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