The discovery in 2013 of three women’s bodies wrapped in garbage bags raised fears and drew national attention to the possibility that another serial killer like Anthony Sowell had been killing women in and around Cleveland.
East Cleveland resident Michael Madison was arrested within days of the discovery, and after an exhaustive search around the neighborhood where he lived, no other bodies were found. The national media spotlight largely faded.
More than 2 ½ years after Madison was indicted on multiple charges of aggravated murder, kidnapping and rape, jury selection for his trial is set to begin Monday in a Cleveland courtroom. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
Jury selection is expected to stretch into next week, and prosecutors have lined up at least 50 witnesses that could take an additional three weeks to question. Madison’s attorneys aren’t commenting on what evidence or witnesses they plan to present, but attorney David Grant said last week that if Madison is convicted, the defense team will work to save his life during the mitigation phase of the trial.
In Ohio, a jury can recommend the death penalty, but the ultimate decision is left to the judge.
“We’re prepared to do whatever we have to do,” Grant said.
The case involving Madison, 38, began with a cable television worker reporting to police in July 2013 a putrid smell coming from a garage shared by Madison at the apartment building where he lived. Once inside, police found the decaying body of a woman wrapped in garbage bags that were sealed closed with tape. The next day, searchers found bodies in the basement of a vacant house and in the backyard of a home close to where Madison lived.
Madison was arrested at his mother’s home in Cleveland after a two-hour standoff. Cuyahoga County prosecutors have said Madison confessed to killing one of the women and disposing her body and to disposing the body of a second woman. He told investigators he couldn’t remember killing the other two women, blaming his faulty memory on drugs and beer.
Coincidentally, attorneys on Tuesday will present oral arguments to the Ohio Supreme Court on why Sowell shouldn’t be put to death. The bodies of 11 women were found in and around his Cleveland home in 2009. He was convicted two years later.
The mayor of East Cleveland speculated that Madison might have been inspired by Sowell’s crimes. Madison’s trial judge agreed to a defense motion that forbids prosecutors from invoking Sowell’s name during the trial because it would be prejudicial.
“It’s not a comparable situation,” Grant said.
Yet similarities exist.
Issues of abuse in their childhood homes have been raised. There was graphic testimony during the sentencing phase of Sowell’s trial about the horrific abuse he witnessed in the East Cleveland home where he grew up. In court documents, a psychologist hired by the defense concluded that Madison likely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms because of the “extreme trauma and abuse” he experienced as a child.
Madison’s attorneys included in an appellate court filing items from a report by the Cuyahoga Department of Children and Family Services that said Madison was abused by his mother and stepfather as a child in the early 1980s. Caseworkers concluded that it was not safe for Madison to return home, and he was sent to live with his grandmother.
Both Madison and Sowell served time in prison for sex offenses. Madison served four years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted rape in 2002. Sowell served 15 years after pleading guilty to attempted rape in 1990. Madison’s charges include one count of rape for what prosecutors said was the sexual assault of one of his victims. A jury convicted Sowell of four counts of rape during his aggravated murder trial.
The Cuyahoga County medical examiner determined that two of the three slain women — Shirellda Terry, 18, and Angela Deskins, 38 — were strangled. Shetisha Sheeley, 28, died of “homicidal violence by unspecified means,” the medical examiner ruled. Authorities believe all of Sowell’s victims were strangled.
The Associated Press contributed to this post.