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Ohio serial killer Sowell gets death penalty

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A judge on Friday sentenced Ohio serial killer Anthony Sowell to death and set his execution date, accepting the recommendation of the jury that convicted the ex-Marine.

Sowell was convicted last month of murdering 11 women over a two-year-period and dumping their bodies around his Cleveland home.

Earlier this week, the jury recommended he be put to death for the crimes -- a recommendation Judge Dick Ambrose could have set aside.

Instead, Ambrose agreed with the panel -- which asked to be in the courtroom for Friday's sentencing -- and ordered that Sowell die by lethal injection on October 29, 2012.

Police discovered the remains of the 11 victims in the fall of 2009, when they went to Sowell's home to investigate rape and assault charges.

Sowell, handcuffed and shackled, had his eyes closed as the sentence was imposed.

He was unresponsive as the judge asked if he understood his responsibility as a sex offender and his right to automatic appeal.

Before sentencing, defense attorney John Parker asked Ambrose to "consider all the mitigation evidence" and to take into account that Sowell attempted to plead guilty before the trial began.

Family members of the dead, and two surviving victims, spoke in open court before the sentence was delivered.

Some family members, like Jim Allen, the father of victim Leshanda Long, said they forgave Sowell.

"Love conquers hate," Allen said. "It is a hollow victory. There is no winner and no loser today."

But many others spoke of judgment and retribution.

One family member even yelled, "dead man walking" as she left the podium.

"You are going to hell for your actions. You are an animal and hell awaits you," said Donnita Carmichael, mother of Barbara Carmichael, one of Sowell's victim.

Defense attorney Rufus Sims told reporters the defense plans on asking for a new trial based on comments jurors made to the press shortly after delivering their verdict.

Ohio has sent 152 people to death row since re-establishing capital punishment in 1999. The average time from sentencing to execution is 14 years, 6 months.

Sowell's 11 victims were Diane Turner, Telacia Fortson, Janice Webb, Nancy Cobbs, Tishana Culver, Amelda Hunter, Michelle Mason, Crystal Dozier and Kim Smith as well as Long and Carmichael.

Many of the victims had histories of drug problems or were transients, and their disappearances were not always immediately reported to police.

Sowell, who had a previous conviction for raping a pregnant woman, had claimed that bad smells in the area came from a nearby sausage factory.

Family members of some victims have filed suit against the city, complaining about the police's handling of the case. The father of one of the victims said his concerns were dismissed by police because of his daughter's history of drug use.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Jerry Norton)