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Anthony Sowell pleads insanity - legal tactic rarely works.

Anthony Sowell, the alleged Cleveland serial killer, pleaded insanity Thursday. His attorneys will have a difficult time proving that, experts say.

Surrounded by sheriff's deputies, Anthony Sowell is arraigned on rape, kidnapping, attempted murder and felonious assault charges, Nov. 13, in Cleveland. A search of Sowell's home after his arrest Sept. 22, led to the discovery of the remains of 11 women on the property.

Mark Duncan/AP/File

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Anthony Sowell, the registered sex offender accused of killing 11 women and leaving their remains in and around his Cleveland home, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Thursday to 85 counts on his indictment.

Yet the ruling of "not guilty by reason of insanity" is almost never heard in courtrooms because juries are too skeptical, say legal experts. Jeffrey Dahmer, "Son of Sam," and Jack Ruby all tried this defense and failed.

"Even with the supportive testimonies of expert psychiatrists, jurors don't like to buy this idea because they feel like they are letting someone skirt responsibility," says Robert Pugsley, professor of law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the institute's name].

Mr. Sowell was indicted on charges that include murder, rape, assault, and corpse abuse. He is accused of murdering 11 women and attacking three others. He could get the death penalty if convicted of any of the killings.

What Sowell's attorneys must prove

Mr. Pugsley and other analysts say they will be watching the Sowell trial to see whether or not it advances the McNaughton rule – the legal code that offers guidance on insanity pleas.

The rule is twofold, Pugsley says.

1. Did he understand the nature of his act?

2. Did he know the act was morally wrong?


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