With four months to go before his aggravated murder trial, the price tag on Cleveland serial-killing suspect Anthony Sowell’s defense is a shade under $150,000. Soon it will become the most expensive publicly funded criminal defense in Cuyahoga County history, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Among the highest expenditures is $24,985 for a mitigation expert — a social researcher whose job is to humanize Sowell, evoke jurors’ sympathy, and possibly save him from the death penalty. Sowell, 51, is accused of killing 11 women whose remains were found last fall at his house.
Judge Dick Ambrose alerted Sowell’s attorneys that they were within $15 of their mitigation allowance. He will not consider future requests without documentation justifying the expense. Although Ambrose’s cost-conscious stance seems valid in an era of tight budgets, legal experts warn that denying a defendant adequate counsel — especially in death penalty cases — could be grounds for an appeal. What constitutes an adequate defense is debatable. The American Bar Association, whose guidelines have been embraced in U.S. Supreme Court decisions as the standard, has called it improper for judges to set spending caps on mitigation services. In Cuyahoga County, however, the court caps initial mitigation costs at $3,000 — a sum that many defense attorneys say is unreasonably low for the work the job requires.