CLEVELAND – A woman who said she was raped by a man charged with killing 11 women testified under a withering cross-examination Wednesday that she told conflicting versions of the attack and falling naked from a third-floor window because she feared for her life.
"He said he was going to kill me, and I believed it," the witness said during a testy cross-examination by an attorney for Anthony Sowell, 51. Sowell has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted.
The witness, who complained to the judge about the line of questioning by John Parker, said she has struggled with drug addiction for 25 years, used an alias on one occasion and originally told police she had been injured in a car accident.
She said she did so because she was afraid for her life and said she didn't feel well when she told police her injuries had been suffered in a car accident.
"This is my life, not yours," she told Parker. "I did what I had to do to save my life."
Sowell, who has mostly remained impassive during testimony, rocked slowly in his chair and watched the woman's testimony closely.
On Wednesday, jurors watched a cellphone video that prosecutors said showed the woman falling from an attic window of Sowell's home. The grainy video shows a naked man — whom the woman identified as Sowell — walking out of the home and apparently trying to move her motionless body from the place where she had landed.
The woman told jurors that she was attacked by Sowell on Oct. 20, 2009, a little more than a week before a SWAT team discovered the first two bodies in his home.
The Associated Press generally does not identify potential victims of sexual assault.
The woman said she had been smoking crack with Sowell at his Cleveland home after a night of partying.
Under cross-examination, the woman said she had 10 drinks before Sowell talked to her at a bus stop.
Sowell approached her, not the other way around as suggested by a defense question, the witness said. "He struck up a conversation with me. Don't get it twisted," she said.
Asked by Parker how the two wound up in Sowell's house, the witness responded, "He said, 'Let's go to my place'."
And you did, Parker asked.
"Yes," the witness responded.
She testified that after hours of doing drugs, she left Sowell's home but turned around halfway down the street when she realized that she had forgotten her ID in his bedroom.
She testified that when she entered the home a second time and began to climb the stairs to retrieve her ID, Sowell came up behind her and began choking her.
"He took me in a choke hold all the way up the steps back to the bedroom," she said. "He told me to take off my clothes and to get on the bed. He told me to lay on my stomach, where he proceeded to violently rape me."
Under another round of prosecution questioning, the witness said she as determined to escape. Asked what was on her mind, she responded, "Get away from Anthony Sowell to save my life."
A man who owns property on Sowell's street, Donald Laster, testified that he drove by Sowell's house and saw an unresponsive, naked woman on the ground, three men taking cellphone photos of her and Sowell, who said it was his wife and she was OK.
"I told him, 'Don't move her'," Laster testified. He sent for a T-shirt for the woman and called for an ambulance. When firefighters arrived, Sowell was carrying the woman.
"I saw Mr. Sowell running with her to the backyard," according to Laster, who said Sowell took the woman into his house. Laster said he blocked the door with his foot and let firefighters handle the situation.
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