By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
CLEVELAND: A man accused of imprisoning three women in his home and subjecting them to rapes and beatings for a decade avoided the death penalty Friday, pleading guilty in a deal that will keep him in prison for life.
“The captor is now the captive,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said of 53-year-old Ariel Castro.
The women’s escape from Castro’s home two months ago at first brought joy to the city where they had become household names after years of searches, publicity and vigils, then despair at revelations of their treatment.
Their rescue brought shocking allegations that Castro fathered a child with one of the women, induced five miscarriages in another by starving and punching her, and assaulted one with a vacuum cord around her neck when she tried to escape.
Castro told the judge he was addicted to pornography, had a “sexual problem” and had been a sexual abuse victim himself long ago.
He pleaded guilty to 937 counts in the deal, which sends him to prison for life without parole, plus 1,000 years. Prosecutors agreed to take a possible death penalty charge off the table.
Castro, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and a bushy beard, was far more engaged than in previous court appearances when he mostly kept his head down and eyes closed. He answered the judge’s questions in a clear voice, saying he understood that he would never be released from prison and adding that he expected he was “going to get the book thrown at me.”
“I knew that when I first spoke to the FBI agent, when I first got arrested,” he said.
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.”
At the end of the 2½-hour hearing, the judge accepted the plea and declared Castro guilty. Sentencing was set for Thursday.
The women said in a statement they were relieved by the conviction.
“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,” said the statement released on their behalf.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight 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 disappearance.
He was accused of repeatedly raping, beating and restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van.
Castro fathered a 6-year-old daughter with Berry, now 27, authorities said. 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, now 32, said her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved and repeatedly punched 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.
Residents of the street where Castro’s boarded-up house is surrounded by a tall chain-link security fence welcomed the guilty plea and the news that the house would likely be torn down within a month, possibly for a park.