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CLEVELAND — A sobbing woman testified Thursday in the trial of man charged with killing 11 women and dumping their bodies around his home that he choked and tried to kill her before she ran from his house, bloody and injured.
Gladys Wade, 42, testified in the murder trial of Anthony Sowell, 51, and identified him as the stranger who wished her "Merry Christmas" during a chance sidewalk encounter Dec. 8, 2008, then punched and choked her and dragged her inside his home.
Sowell has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted.
It was the second time in two days that a witness gave emotionally charged testimony. On Wednesday, a woman told jurors that she was raped for hours and saw a decapitated body at Sowell's home.
Prosecutors say Sowell lured the women into his home with the promise of drugs and alcohol. The bodies were found in late 2009 after a SWAT team showed up to arrest Sowell on a separate rape and felonious assault warrant.
Wade, who has a history of drug abuse and a conviction for receiving stolen property, turned her back on Sowell by swiveling the witness chair to face the jury as she testified in sometimes halting, sobbing tones.
"I told them a man tried to kill me," Wade testified, recounting her ordeal and how she flagged down police after she was attacked.
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When first asked by the prosecutor whether her attacker was in the courtroom, Wade clenched her hand to her mouth and cried, shaking her head that she couldn't answer or point him out.
"We'll go back to that," prosecutor Pinkey Carr reassured her.
Later, the prosecutor asked again. Wade asked if she could point him out without looking at him. Sowell watched impassively.
Prompted to by Carr to answer, Wade said, "I see him," and pointed at the defense table. Carr asked her to specify whether she was referring to Sowell, seated between his two defense attorneys, and Wade said yes.
Describing the attack, she said it began after she stopped in a convenience store near Sowell's house.
"Merry Christmas," a stranger said to her, Wade testified. Moments later, she testified, Wade found herself punched, choked and being dragged into a house that she identified from photos as Sowell's.
"Choking me to death," was the way she described it from the witness stand.
How, Carr asked?
"His hands," Wade responded.
Wade testified that she emerged from being knocked unconsciousness to hear Sowell ordering her to take off her clothes. Instead, she clawed at Sowell, the two fought and eventually they fell down the stairs, with Wade fleeing out the door, she testified.
She flagged down police and told them she had been attacked, where it happened and what the attacker looked like. From the stand, she identified Sowell from the police photo taken at the time and gently fingered an evidence photo showing her neck scratches.
Under cross-examination, the defense tried to challenge her credibility by focusing on her drug use and criminal record.
Sowell wasn't charged in the attack and Wade said she didn't know what became of her complaint. Some relatives of victims have said that police were indifferent to assault complaints involving women involved in drugs and prostitution. The city administration has sought to address the issue.
After the bodies were found in Sowell's home, detectives contacted Wade. The indictment against Sowell charged him with attempted murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, attempted rape and aggravated robbery in the attack on her.