Anthony Sowell Psyche Exam, Prison Records

If you haven’t read the psychological report on Anthony Sowell, it’s here.  Completed in September 2005, it finds Sowell has a low chance of recidivism, or committing another crime.
As I point out, Sowell lied to the government analyst, something s a trained professional might have wanted to ponder.  Sowell was also a guy who was refused release on a 5 to 15 year sentence for rape based on the severity and violence of his crime.  Check out some of Sowell’s parole considerations here.
From the book:
In August 2005, Sowell received a notice in the mail from the Cuyahoga County Court Psychiatric Clinic. As part of his sex-offender monitoring, he was required to undergo a sexual-predator evaluation.
On September 1, 2005, Sowell showed up an hour early to the county Justice Center, a little put out by the obligation. After all, he felt, he had served his complete sentence, he wasn’t on parole or probation, and he was working twelve-hour days at a good job, one with community standing. The Indians, like the football Browns and the basketball Cavaliers, were religion among many Clevelanders.
Straight away, Sowell was told that there could be some negative impacts from the evaluation. It was a public record.
“I know, I know,” he said, his initial irritation dissipating. He had no choice, and over the course of the next hour and a half, Sowell talked, listened, and talked some more. In some cases, he told the truth. In others, he covered up.
He reported that his upbringing was in a single-parent home in an urban area, and he added that his home “was crowded.”
He told the analyst that he had a lot of friends while growing up but added that he was bullied and teased as well. He neglected to tell of the sexual abuse he both witnessed and partook in. In fact, whether it was a case of covering up or of being completely oblivious, he told the analyst that his childhood was good.
The report also notes that Sowell claimed that “he was not exposed to violence in his home, school, or community” and that “he does not have a strong temper.”
In doing background work on Sowell, the analyst later wrote in a report that “Mr. Sowell’s grades [in high school] were average; he was never in special education classes nor did he receive tutoring or medicine for attention problems. His school attendance was generally good and he was never suspended or expelled.”
Sowell said he’d never been suspended from school or fired from a job, and he had never received any government assistance of any kind, for any reasons.
Asked about the attack on Melvette Sockwell, he claimed to have known her for about eighteen months at the time of the incident, an assertion Melvette denies and was never verified by the state.
“He stated that he paid her money to engage in consensual sex,” according to the report. “He stated that he had used alcohol prior to the . . . offense but was not ‘falling down drunk.’ He indicated that he pled guilty to the charge because he was having difficulty mounting a ‘good defense.’”
His attorney in that case—the one who Sowell implied was ineffective—was Jim McDonnell, who, many years later, would run for Cuyahoga County prosecutor.
“All I can tell you is that I remember nothing about representing him,” McDonnell says now.
Sowell talked about his drinking and confided that he may well have a drinking problem although, because of his incarceration, he hadn’t been drunk in sixteen years, since he was thirty.
Questioned about sex, Sowell simply lied. He said he learned about sex through talking with his friends at school and sex-ed classes and that his first sexual experience came at age seventeen with his high school girlfriend, who would have been Twyla Austin.
He admitted that he bought hookers while he was in the marines and hit the occasional strip joint. He said that like most men, he had checked out pornography, some hard-core, but never had any violent sexual fantasies. In fact, he came off as a guy who caught a bad break on the rape charge.
To the nameless analyst, who would file this report for public consumption as well as for judges and lawyers and law-enforcement agents who look to these professional assessments for guidance in determining a suspect’s possible guilt, Anthony Sowell seemed like a pretty okay guy. In the report, the analyst wrote that Sowell was “attentive throughout the interview. He demonstrated a full range of emotional expression. His speech was appropriate for rate, tone and volume. He was generally cooperative and polite. His thoughts were organized and logical. His responses were clear and understandable. He described his general mood as ‘good.’ The defendant’s hazard recognition skills and social judgment were good.” The analyst’s report went on to say, “It is my opinion that with reasonable professional certainty that Mr. Sowell does not currently present with the following risk factors most significantly correlated with sexual offense recidivism.”
The factors that the analyst indicated included age (at forty-six, Anthony Sowell was statistically less a risk to reoffend), gender of victim (a male victim typically indicates a higher risk), and, notably, failure to complete treatment (in Sowell’s case, he had never had treatment; therefore, this factor was ignored—he could not be said to have “failed” to complete something he’s never even begun). Also considered were prior sexual offenses (of which Sowell had none) and deviant sexual preferences (which he denied).
Sowell was given a low probability rating to reoffend. Years later, when the report was revealed to have been flawed, the county refused to divulge who the analyst was. But as a result of that county employee’s poor judgment, Sowell was classified as a “sexually oriented offender” based on his attempted rape conviction, but not a “sexual predator,” which would have placed him under more scrutiny when a sex crime was reported in the area around him.
The system was not working.

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2 thoughts on “Anthony Sowell Psyche Exam, Prison Records

  1. Avalanche50

    I appreciate your input here. But the point is that a flawed system is enabled by the people who perpetuate it. I understand that science can be wrong – but where is the human element in this calculation? I can approach a news story with a theory that has been taught in our universities, repeated forever and ended up with strong results – accurate, informative and generally unchallenged. But once I get into the story, I am aware that, if needed, I have to abandon that convention and make some judgments on my own. Further, given the high stakes – whether a violent criminal such as Sowell in 2005 would commit another horrific violent offense, common sense trumps science every time. Giving the analyst a hedge – noting that Sowell’s score was not to be used as a measure of his risk to reoffend – doesn’t help anyone. Would you say that the measures need to be reexamined, or should there be a human factor introduced into these risk calculations?

  2. perdido

    Mr. Miller: I don't think you understand the information in the report. The report uses research on convicted sexual offenders that identified what factors predict that they will reoffend. The prediction was incorrect, but not because the analyst did a bad job. It's because research shows a relatively low rate of sexual reoffending, and it is relatively difficult to predict low-frequency events with great accuracy. Compare the accuracy of predicting whether the sun will come up tomorrow versus whether there will be an earthquake in San Francisco tomorrow. In this case, the analyst used the extant data to predict that people with these known risk factors have a low risk of recidivism–and he also noted carefully that the prediction showed the RISK GROUP in which Sowell's score put him and was not to be used as a measure of **his** particular risk for reoffending. The fact that Sowell denied his prior sex offense is not a known risk factor for recidivism. Successful completion of treatment does reduce risk slightly, but the STATIC-99 doesn't consider that risk factor. Now, you note that Sowell would have come under more scrutiny if the judge had read the report and classified him as a sexual predator. Not true–the result would have been a requirement that he report his address more often to the sheriff, and for a longer period of time. He did fulfill all of his reporting requirements. But the police fell down on the job because they were ignoring missing persons reported by their families, not reported sex crimes. When you look at the whole picture, the analyst's report bears no responsibility for what Sowell did afterwards. He had already served him time for attempted rape, was released into the community, and could have reported his address to the police every day and still could have killed those women. By the way, there is no set of factors to identify those people who are going to be serial killers–as I mentioned, such low-frequency events aren't reliably predicted.


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