Former ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Jeff Gamso represents Anthony Sowell in the direct appeal of Mr. Sowell’s conviction and 11 death sentences to the Ohio Supreme Court. Although the case had been fully briefed for approximately a year and a half, the Supreme Court, on September 3, 2014, issued an order requiring the parties to submit additional briefs on two issues that had not been raised. Both issues concern decisions by the trial court to close certain phases of the court proceedings to the public.
The first issue is whether appellant Anthony Sowell was denied his right under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to a public trial when the trial court closed the courtroom to the public during a hearing concerning whether to allow certain evidence against Mr. Sowell to be included in the record. The second issue is whether Mr. Sowell was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial when the trial court closed the courtroom to the public during voir dire, the process by which jurors are selected.
Mr. Gamso briefed the Sixth Amendment issues on behalf of his client. We filed an amicus brief in support of the right of Mr. Sowell and the public to an open trial. The briefs were filed on October 3, 2014, and both parties filed their Responses on October 23, 2014. Per the court’s order, replies were not permitted. Oral argument was heard on April 5, 2016.
On December 8, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Sowell’s convictions and sentence in total. The Court concluded that although the trial court failed to follow the necessary procedures in making the proceedings non-public, that error did not mandate a new hearing or trial. The Court set Mr. Sowell’s execution date for November 18, 2020.
Counsel for Mr. Sowell filed a motion to stay the execution of the death sentence pending the final disposition of Mr. Sowell’s state claims. Mr. Sowell’s counsel also filed a motion for reconsideration on December 19, 2016, which was denied.