Cleveland kidnapper avoids death penalty with plea deal

Jeff Stacklin
Jeff Stacklin and Beth Fouhy
Yahoo! News
Ariel Castro
The Cleveland man accused of holding three women captive for about a decade agreed to plead guilty.

In what might be the first act of mercy shown to his victims, the man charged with kidnapping, raping and beating three Cleveland, Ohio, women agreed to a plea deal on Friday that would spare the women the agony of reliving the horrific details of their years in captivity during a jury trial.

Ariel Castro, 53, of Cleveland would serve life without parole, plus 1,000 years, and be spared the death penalty, according to the agreement.

Castro, unlike in prior hearings when he hung his head, repeatedly looked around the courtroom and responded to Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge Michael Russo's questions in a loud voice.

Russo asked Castro in numerous ways if he understood that, based on the plea deal, he would never get out of prison and was waiving his rights to a jury trial. Each time, Castro looked at Russo and clearly answered, "Yes, your honor." He also said, "I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me."

When questioned about his ability to read and write, Castro said he was proficient, but he also said his addiction to pornography had taken a toll on his mind.

After more than an hour of explaining the consequences of the agreement to Castro, Russo began asking him for his plea to the specific charges of aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping. Castro's response to each was "guilty."

Russo said a sentencing hearing would be held Aug. 1 and that he still needed to agree to the sentencing recommendations in the plea deal. Castro's victims can appear at that hearing by live video, recorded video or letter or be represented by someone else.

Castro's home and his savings of more than $22,000 will be forfeited to the state of Ohio, according to the plea agreement. Castro told the judge that he thought there was more cash, and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty responded that the state would be going over the house very carefully.

"If there's anything else, we plan to keep it," McGinty said, adding that Castro's home will be razed "very soon."

McGinty said of Castro after the hearing, "This man is the worst of the worst. He is the most violent sexual predator a community can offer. He's a manipulator; he has no remorse. ... The captor is now the captive." Castro will not leave prison, McGinty said, "except nailed in a box or in an ash can. ... That's the best justice we can achieve here."

Earlier this summer, a grand jury indicted Castro on 977 charges, including kidnapping, rape and murder.
As part of the plea deal, 40 counts that were considered redundant were dropped from the indictment. Ultimately, he pleaded guilty to 937 charges.

Authorities say Castro kidnapped the three women Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27 and held them captive in his west side Cleveland home for the past decade. While in captivity, authorities say, he chained the women in his basement, repeatedly beat and sexually assaulted them, and allowed them outside his house on only a few occasions.

He also fathered Berry’s 6-year-old daughter while he held Berry captive, authorities say. When he impregnated another of the women, he beat and starved her until she miscarried, which led to an aggravated murder charge. It was that charge that could have resulted in the death penalty.

Castro previously had asked that his 6-year-old daughter be able to visit him, but McGinty said after the hearing that the plea agreement stipulates Castro is a sexual predator and he cannot see the girl.

The women, who did not attend Friday's hearing, were able to escape Castro’s home on May 6. They have not spoken publicly of their ordeal and have released only a video on the Internet thanking the community for being supportive.

McGinty said the women are continuing to get help but that they have "a long way to go," and he noted that "they were held longer than prisoners in Korea or Vietnam." He also said the women approved of the plea deal.

Cleveland City Council member Matt Zone, who represents the ward DeJesus lives in, said after the hearing that he spoke with DeJesus' mother, Nancy Ruiz, on Thursday evening. He said Ruiz did not want Castro to get the death penalty but instead spend the rest of his life in prison.

Reuters reported that the law firm Jones Day released a statement on behalf of the three women that said, "Amanda, Gina, and Michelle are relieved by today's plea. They are satisfied by this resolution to the case, and are looking forward to having these legal proceedings draw to a final close in the near future."