CLEVELAND -- The half-sister of a serial killer who hid the remains of 11 women in his home and yard appealed to a jury Thursday to spare his life but admitted during a testy cross-examination that he sometimes got angry and once assaulted a girl.
"All he did was hit her once. She was bleeding all over the place," Tressa Garrison, 41, told jurors who must decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without parole for Anthony Sowell, 51.
Garrison was called by the defense to portray Sowell favorably and help him escape the death penalty, but she testified under cross-examination by assistant Prosecutor Pinkey Carr that her brother would get angry if he drank alcohol and smoked marijuana at the same time.
She and her brother smiled as she recounted the story of Sowell smacking a girl who had been arguing with Garrison.
Sowell, who was convicted last month of aggravated murder in the 11 deaths, appeared more animated during her testimony than normal, shaking his head "yes" or "no" in agreement. He made a comment, inaudible in the public gallery, that drew a glance from the judge and prompted a deputy to take up a position behind Sowell.
Garrison said responsibility for her brother's crimes was shared by an ex-girlfriend who left
him, by a family history of depression, by the Marines for failing to detect a cardiac problem more than 20 years before he suffered a heart attack and by police who didn't recognize a stench at Sowell's home as rotting bodies.
If Sowell had gotten the help he needed over the years, Garrison testified, "It would have never have happened."
When the prosecutor highlighted Garrison's testimony blaming others, Garrison responded, "I think it was everything together."
"Something drove him to it," Carr responded. "It wouldn't be his fault, would it?"
When Garrison complained that police had failed to properly investigate a 1989 encounter that led to Sowell pleading guilty to attempted rape and getting 15 years in prison, Carr used the opening to elicit details which the jury hadn't heard: that the victim was partially naked and bound at the wrists, similar to some of his murder victims.
On Monday, the jury heard for the first time that Sowell had that prior sexual-assault conviction. Any mention of it was withheld during the trial to avoid prejudicing jurors.
Garrison cried and Sowell wiped away tears as she testified about their close relationship.
"I still need him," Garrison said.
Police said Sowell lured victims 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 disposed of in garbage bags and plastic sheets, then dumped in various parts of the house and backyard.
By MEGHAN BARR and THOMAS J. SHEERAN Associated Press
The Associated Press