Ariel Castro pleads guilty in Ohio kidnap case

CLEVELAND (AP) – The Cleveland man accused of holding three women
captive in his home for about a decade pleaded guilty Friday in a deal
to avoid the death penalty.

In exchange, prosecutors recommended Ariel Castro be sentenced to life without parole plus 1,000 years.

Castro, 53, said he understood that he would never
get out of prison, saying he expected he was “going to get the book
thrown at me.” He later added, “I knew that when I first spoke to the
FBI agent when I first got arrested.”

Castro, wearing glasses for the first time in
court, was far more interactive than in previous court appearances when
he mostly kept his head down and eyes closed. During Friday's hearing,
he answered the judge's questions in a clear, intelligible voice, saying
he understood the proceedings and that he would never be released from

Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico, said he could read and understand English well but had trouble with comprehension.

“My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem
has really taken a toll on my mind.” He later said he had been a sexual
abuse victim as a child, but the judge cut him off.

The deal comes more than a month after a statement
issued on behalf of the women said they were “hopeful for a just and
prompt resolution” and had “great faith in the prosecutor's office and
the court.”

Castro had been scheduled for trial Aug. 5 on a
977-count indictment, but he was pleading guilty to 937 counts. The
indictment included two counts of aggravated murder related to
accusations that he punched and starved one woman until she miscarried.
The former school bus driver also was charged with hundreds of counts of
kidnapping and rape, plus assault and other counts.

He was accused of repeatedly restraining the women,
sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or
inside a van. The charges alleged Castro assaulted one woman with a
vacuum cord around her neck when she tried to escape.

The sticking point on a plea deal had been whether
the prosecutor would rule out the death penalty. The Cuyahoga County
prosecutor had kept that issue under review.

The three women disappeared separately between 2002
and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Each said they had
accepted a ride from Castro, who remained friends with the family of one
of the women and even attended vigils over the years marking her

The women escaped Castro's house May 6 when one of
them kicked out part of a door and called to neighbors for help. Castro
was arrested within hours and has remained behind bars.

News that Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus and Michelle
Knight had been found alive electrified the Cleveland area, where two of
them were household names after years of searches, publicity and
vigils. But elation soon turned to shock as allegations about their
treatment began to emerge.

Castro fathered a 6-year-old daughter with Berry,
authorities said. They allege that on the day the child was born,
Christmas 2006, Castro raped one of the other women, who had helped
deliver the baby.

Berry told authorities that she, her child and the other women never saw a doctor during their captivity.

Knight said her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved and repeatedly punched her.

The Associated Press does not usually identify
people who may be victims of sexual assault, but the names of the three
women were widely circulated after they disappeared, and they appeared
in an online video thanking the public for its support. They otherwise
have sought to stay out of sight and have appealed for privacy.

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Categories: KUSI