Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Ariel Castro given life without parole plus 1,000 years

Ariel Castro listens in the courtroom during the sentencing phase Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland
Ariel Castro listens in the courtroom during the sentencing phase Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland

The American man convicted of holding three women captive in his house over a decade and raping them repeatedly has been jailed for life without parole plus 1,000 years.

Ariel Castro, 53, of Cleveland, Ohio, was sentenced today after pleading guilty to 937 counts including aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape and assault.

The former school bus driver got the life term for the most serious count and was given the additional time for the hundreds of other counts.

A plea deal struck last week spared him from a possible death sentence for beating and starving a pregnant victim until she miscarried.

The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.

They escaped to freedom on May 6 when one of them, Amanda Berry, broke out part of the door to Castro's house and yelled to neighbours for help.

FBI agent Andrew Burke told the court how Castro turned his house into a prison by creating a makeshift alarm system and chaining them inside bolted bedrooms.

Bedroom windows were boarded shut from the inside with heavy cupboard doors and doorknobs had been removed and replaced with multiple locks, he said. The house was divided in ways to make it more secure and to hide the existence of rooms, he said.

Mr Burke also testified that Castro would occasionally pay his victims after raping them. But he would then require them to pay him if they wanted something special from the store.

The letter written by Castro was found in his home and shown in court. It read "Confession and Details" at the top.

Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Detective Dave Jacobs said he talked with Castro a few days after the women escaped and that Castro said, "I knew what I did was wrong."

During the sentencing hearing, Castro apologised to his victims but also claimed that most of the sex was consensual.

He insisted he is not a monster but said he is sick and addicted to pornography. He said he did not even plan the first kidnapping.

He said he knows what he did was wrong, but that he is not a violent person and that his captives asked for sex and were not tortured.

A police officer who helped rescue the women said one was reluctant to come out of her room even when she saw the officers. They were scared even after they were taken out of the house and quickly began sharing details about the horrors they went through, saying that they had been starved and beaten.

"They were just shouting out a lot of things," said Cleveland police officer Barb Johnson. She described the women as thin, pale and scared.

Responding to questions from prosecutors, Cleveland police detective Andrew Harasimchuk said that the women all described a pattern of being physically, sexually and emotionally assaulted for years. He said all three women were abducted after Castro offered them a ride and that each was chained in his basement and sexually assaulted within a few hours of being kidnapped.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said in a sentencing memorandum filed yesterday that Castro, who fed his captives only one meal a day, "admits his disgusting and inhuman conduct" but "remains remorseless for his actions".

The memorandum described a diary kept by one of the women.

"The entries speak of forced sexual conduct, of being locked in a dark room, of anticipating the next session of abuse, of the dreams of someday escaping and being reunited with family, of being chained to a wall, of being held like a prisoner of war... of being treated like an animal," it says.

Prosecutors used a model of the house where Castro imprisoned the women to present their case. They also showed photos taken from inside the ramshckle home.

The women quickly escaped after Ms Berry kicked out the door panel on May 6 and Castro was arrested within hours.

Some horrific details of the women's ordeal had already emerged, including tales of being chained to poles in the basement or a bedroom heater or inside a van, with one woman forced to wear a motorcycle helmet while chained in the basement and, after she tried to escape, having a vacuum cord wrapped around her neck.

Castro repeatedly starved and beat one of the victims each time she was pregnant, forcing her to miscarry five times.

He forced the same woman on threat of death to safely deliver the child he fathered with another victim on Christmas Day 2006. The same day, prosecutors said, Castro raped the woman who helped deliver his daughter.

As part of his plea deal, Castro was to receive a sentence of life with no chance of parole for aggravated murder in the forced miscarriage. He would then receive 1,000 years for the kidnapping, rape, assault and other charges.

Ms Berry, now 27, made a surprise onstage appearance at a rap concert last weekend, and a second victim, Gina DeJesus, now 23, has made a few televised comments. Michelle Knight, now 32, appeared with Ms Berry and Ms DeJesus in a video in early July thanking the community for its support.

Ms Knight, the first of three to disappear, also sent police a handwritten letter thanking them for their help collecting cards and gifts for the women. In the note, Knight told Second District Cmdr. Keith Sulzer, "Life is tough, but I'm tougher!"

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