CLEVELAND – Two more women testified Thursday that a man charged with killing 11 women choked and tried to kill them, adding to the list of women who say they managed to escape from Cleveland's house of death.
Tanja Doss, who used to live across the street from Anthony Sowell, said she was smoking crack and drinking beer at his home one day in April 2009 when he turned around and wrapped his hands around her throat.
"Next thing I know he just turns to the left, grabbed me by my throat, and pushed me up toward the bed and started choking me," Doss told the court. "And when he started choking me, tears starting coming out my eye."
Doss said Sowell told her "you could be another crackhead dead" in the street and that nobody would care if she died.
"He said, 'if you want to live, knock three times on the floor.' And I knocked three times on the floor," Doss testified.
Then Sowell ordered her to take off her clothes, Doss said. She told the jury that she went to the bathroom and returned to find him lying naked on the bed, but he didn't touch her again. She cried herself to sleep, and when she woke up the next morning, Sowell acted like nothing had happened, Doss said.
Doss didn't report the attack to police until several months later, after the bodies were found in Sowell's home and backyard.
Sowell, 51, has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors say Sowell lured the women into his home with the promise of drugs and alcohol. The bodies were found in late 2009 after a SWAT team showed up to arrest Sowell on a separate rape and felonious assault warrant.
Earlier Thursday, 42-year-old Gladys Wade identified Sowell as the stranger who wished her "Merry Christmas" during a chance sidewalk encounter Dec. 8, 2008, then punched and choked her and dragged her inside his home.
Wade, who has a history of drug abuse and a conviction for receiving stolen property, turned her back on Sowell by swiveling the witness chair to face the jury as she testified in sometimes halting, sobbing tones.
"I told them a man tried to kill me," Wade testified, recounting her ordeal and how she flagged down police after she was attacked.
When first asked by the prosecutor whether her attacker was in the courtroom, Wade clenched her hand to her mouth and cried, shaking her head that she couldn't answer or point him out.
"We'll go back to that," prosecutor Pinkey Carr reassured her.
Later, the prosecutor asked again. Wade asked if she could point him out without looking at him. Sowell watched impassively.
Prompted to by Carr to answer, Wade said, "I see him," and pointed at the defense table. Carr asked her to specify whether she was referring to Sowell, seated between his two defense attorneys, and Wade said yes.
The attack began after she stopped in a convenience store near Sowell's house, she testified.
"Merry Christmas," a stranger said to her, Wade testified. Moments later, Wade said she found herself punched, choked and being dragged into a house that she identified from photos as Sowell's.
Wade testified that she emerged from being knocked unconsciousness to hear Sowell ordering her to take off her clothes. Instead, she clawed at Sowell, the two fought and eventually they fell down the stairs, with Wade fleeing out the door, she told the court.
She flagged down police and told them she had been attacked, where it happened and what the attacker looked like. From the stand, she identified Sowell from the police photo taken at the time and gently fingered an evidence photo showing her neck scratches.
Under cross-examination, the defense tried to challenge her credibility by focusing on her drug use and criminal record.
Sowell wasn't charged in the attack and Wade said she didn't know what became of her complaint. Some relatives of victims have said that police were indifferent to assault complaints involving women involved in drugs and prostitution. The city later formed a task force to address the widespread criticism of how officers handled sex crimes reports and missing person investigations.
After the bodies were found in Sowell's home, detectives contacted Wade. The indictment against Sowell charged him with attempted murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, attempted rape and aggravated robbery in the attack on her.
The testimony in Sowell's trial has been graphic and often disturbing. On Wednesday, a woman told jurors that she was raped for hours and saw a decapitated body at Sowell's home.
The trial will resume next week.
Associated Press Writer Meghan Barr contributed to this report.
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