Missed Opportunities in Sowell Case

Anthony Sowell CBS/AP

By CBS News Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian and producer Laura Strickler.

It was a shocking discovery by any standard. In all, the bodies of 11 women were found at a house on Cleveland's Imperial Ave.

The stench was so intense, people had complained as far back as 2006.

Florence Bray's daughter Crystal Dozier was among the victims.

Extended Interview with Victim's Mother

"That was my daughter dead, cause she was in the backyard, that was my daughter back then," she said.

Read the Exclusive Detective's Report
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Police believe all 11 women were raped and murdered by Anthony Sowell, a neighborhood "nice guy" with a dark, violent past. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges in the case.

Sowell was arrested last October, on Halloween. Four months later the question still hangs over the city. What took Cleveland police so long to finally catch Anthony Sowell?

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A CBS News investigation has uncovered exclusive new details revealing critical mistakes by police and prosecutors working the case - how they could have stopped a serial killer if they hadn't ignored charges of rape.

County judge Tim McGinty has been on the bench for 18 years and says he can no longer keep silent.

"There is something wrong with this picture, this would not have happened anywhere else," McGinty said.

Extended Interview with Judge McGinty

Cleveland has more reported rapes per capita than any major city in the nation: 633 in 2008. But no one was charged in more than two-thirds of those cases.

Photo Galleries
Cleveland House of Horror Victims
Anthony Sowell's Home of Horror Photos

"Do you feel the police should have known about Sowell?" Keteyian asked.

"Do I think they should have known," Bray asked? "They did know!"

Just look at Sowell's record: twice arrested for rape in 1989 and 1990. Then he served 15 years in prison, and forced to register as a sex offenderupon his release in 2005. All of which evidently meant nothing on the night of Dec. 8, 2008.

On that night a woman named Gladys Wade said Sowell punched her, choked her, and tried to rape her. Sowell was quickly arrested, the case turned over to the sex crimes unit. It was the beginning of a missed opportunity that, some say, ended up costing six other women their lives.

The detective's report from that case, obtained exclusively by CBS News,shows the police believed a convicted rapist -- and not the alleged victim. The detective wrote "there were no visible signs" that the woman was punched. Detectives and prosecutors stating there was "insufficient evidence" to prosecute.

Rape Victim Just Learns - It Was Sowell

But while the detective notes visiting the crime scene, there is no mention of the smell neighbors had complained about for years. There's no note of Sowell's criminal history in the report -- despite police claims his record was checked.

(CBS)
The conclusion: the woman's claims, including attempted rape, were:

"unfounded///unfounded///unfounded."

Sowell was set free.

Martin Flask Extended Interview

Martin Flask oversees the Cleveland Police Department.

"They took the word of a convicted rapist over the alleged victim?" Keteyian asked.

"No, no," Flask replied. "All I can say is I know that the investigator did a good job - took statements, investigated the incident, presented the facts to the prosecutor, made a determination that no criminal charges would flow from that incident."

That incident occurred in December 2008. Nine months later, another woman accused Sowell of rape. Yet the police didn't even visit the crime scene for more than a month. It was only then that the death house on Imperial Avenue was discovered.

Still, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath had nothing but praise for his department.

"I wouldn't say we dropped the ball, we were very vigilant in what we did," McGrath said.

"Eleven people found dead in one building and in the area of a home and kept as trophies corroded and they did good police work?" Judge McGinty asked. "Something is wrong here."

What's wrong, according to McGinty, goes beyond the low priority given to rape cases in Cleveland. McGinty and even some police officers say Cleveland follows a long held practice known as "straight release" where detectives and prosecutors routinely release hardened criminals like Sowell, instead of indicting them.

"They don't have the time. They don't have the willpower, and the don't have the uh, resources, the numbers," Judge McGinty said. "They have to dump cases because there's nothing else they can do."

"So we are going to give you a free pass," Keteyian asked.

"They release 'em, it's like trout fishing where you catch and release, except these are criminals you they are catching and releasing," McGinty replied.

As it stands right now, you're finding no fault with anybody in the Cleveland Police Department regarding Anthony Sowell and the investigation?" Keteyian asked Flask.

"I don't find any direct fault yet," Flask replied.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson recently appointed a commission to review his city's sex crimes investigations. But to date, no one in the Cleveland criminal justice system has been held accountable for the failure to catch and hold a serial rapist turned killer - for the unimaginable loss of 11 lives in a single house of horror.
  • Armen Keteyian

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