Castro gets life without parole plus 1,000 years

Ariel Castro was sentenced to life without parole on the charge of aggravated murder and received multiple years on various other charges related to kidnap and rape that totalled 1,000 years.

Castro gets life without parole plus 1,000 years

Cuyahoga common pleas court judge Michael Russo emphasised that Castro would never leave jail and that the multiple sentences would be consecutive because of the severity of his crimes. Russo told Castro the extreme sentence is meant “to punish you”.

“You don’t deserve to be out in our community,” Russo told Castro.

Russo also told the convict that he was to never try to contact his victims — Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus — or Berry’s daughter, whom Castro fathered.

Ms Knight, one of the three women Castro has admitted to kidnapping and torturing in his Cleveland home, told him in court yesterday: “You took 11 years of my life away. I went through 11 years of hell, and now your hell is just beginning. You will face hell for an eternity. You will die a little every day... You deserve to spend life in prison.”

Ms Knight told the court that she thought about her son, who was two when she was abducted, every day she was in captivity. She said Christmases were especially hard because she wasn’t with him.

She arrived in the court at the end of a late-morning recess, and Castro kept looking over his shoulder at her. Three deputies standing by him told him to look to the front of the courtroom and away from Ms Knight.

Castro told the court in a rambling statement: “I am not a monster. I am just sick. I have an addiction, just like an alcoholic has an addiction.” He also said, “I am not a violent person, and I do have value for human life.” Castro claims he is addicted to pornography. He also said the sex was consensual.

“As God is my witness, I never beat these women as they say I did,” said Castro.

Judge Russo thanked Ms Knight for her restraint during Castro’s statement.

Castro, as part of a bargain to avoid the death penalty, had pleaded guilty last Friday to kidnapping, raping, and beating Ms Knight, Ms Berry, and Ms DeJesus. The plea deal stipulated that Castro would be sentenced to a minimum of life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years.

Ms Knight was the only one of the victims to speak in court. Ms DeJesus was represented by her cousin, Sylvia Colon, and Ms Berry by her sister Beth Serrano. Earlier in the hearing, Judge Russo had asked Castro, who was handcuffed and shackled, if he would like to apologise to his victims, but Castro said he would wait until later in the hearing.

The three women, for the most part, have maintained a low profile since their rescue on May 6, when Ms Berry escaped from Castro’s home with her six-year-old daughter.

Last month, the women released a YouTube video to thank the community for its support. Ms Berry surprised a crowd last weekend when she walked onstage during a Cleveland concert and was greeted by cheering fans. She later returned to the stage at the invitation of rapper Nelly.

Knight wrote a note to the Cleveland police that the department posted on its Facebook page Wednesday. “You don’t know how much I appreciate all your time & work collecting cards and gifts from people for me and the other girls,” Ms Knight’s handwritten note stated. “I am overwhelmed by the amount of thoughts, love + prayers expressed by complete strangers ... Life is tough. But I’m tougher. Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.”

The sentencing hearing opened with testimony by Cleveland police officer Barb Johnson. Johnson was one of the first officers on the scene May 6.

He said that in the ambulance after they were rescued, the three victims told of repeated beatings by Castro and described how they helped Ms Berry give birth at Castro’s house.

Det Andy Harasimchuk of the Cleveland Police Department sex crimes unit told the court that all three women told him they were repeatedly sexually assaulted during the entire time they were held.

Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Jacobs testified that Castro referred to himself during an interview in May as a sexual predator and said that he abducted the women to satisfy his sexual needs. Jacobs also said Castro said that he knew what he did was wrong.

Investigators found a handwritten letter in Castro’s house in which he declared, “I am a sexual predator,” FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke testified. Castro also wrote in the letter that he had been sexually abused as a child and said he has an addiction to pornography.

Assistant prosecutor Blaise Thomas, speaking with reporters during a break in the hearing, said that when prosecutors met with Castro for him to sign over the deed to his home, Casto teared up and said, “I don’t understand why you have to tear my house down. I have so many happy memories there with Gina, Amanda and Michelle.” Thomas said, “That’s the true Ariel Castro.”

Castro, a former school bus driver, kidnapped the women from the streets of Cleveland’s west side, then imprisoned them for a decade, court records state.

During their captivity, he raped and beat them, chained them in his basement, and allowed them outside only a few times.

DNA analysis shows that Castro fathered Ms Berry’s daughter, and prosecutors say he impregnated Ms Knight and then beat her to force a miscarriage. It was that act that resulted in the aggravated murder charge and a possible death penalty.

After last Friday’s plea bargain hearing, Cuyahoga county prosecutor Tim McGinty described Castro as a manipulator without remorse who would not leave prison “except nailed in a box or in an ash can”.

Castro pleaded guilty to 937 charges, including aggravated murder, rape, and kidnapping.

Police rescuer thought kidnap victim ‘was a little girl’

Michelle Knight, one of three women who survived more than a decade of captivity in Ariel Castro’s Cleveland house, was so emaciated that the rescuing police officer initially thought she was a little girl.

She was also so scared that during her rescue she had trouble breathing.

That portrait of Knight, who is believed to have suffered the most abuse at the hands of Castro, was detailed by police at Castro’s sentencing hearing yesterday.

But before the hearing began, Knight declared that she was no longer that battered and terrified person.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly,” Knight wrote. Her message was posted on the Cleveland police department’s website.

“You don’t know how much I appreciate all your time and work collecting cards and gifts from people for me and the other girls. I am overwhelmed by the amount of thoughts, love and prayers expressed by complete strangers. It is comforting. Life is tough, but I’m tougher!” she wrote.

Knight, 32, not only issued a statement of gratitude, but was the only one of Castro’s three victims to appear in court to read her impact statement.

Her fellow captives Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus submitted statements that were read by others.

Psychiatrist Dr Frank Ochberg said of Knight, “what an extraordinary human being”. He told the court she served as doctor and nurse to the other two women and a child born in captivity.

Knight was 22 when she was snatched off the street by Castro. She was held the longest along with DeJesus and Berry, and appeared the bear the brunt of his wrath.

She was captured by Castro, officials testified, when she was searching for the office of her social worker to discuss the custody of her two-year-old son. She was lost and asking for directions in a store. Castro stepped forward and offered to take her there, police testified.

He stopped at his house and asked Knight if she would like to pick up a puppy to take to her son, and Knight agreed. Castro dragged her to the basement where he bound her with chains, put a motorcycle helmet on her and began more than a decade of rape and battering.

“Christmas was the most traumatic day because I never got to spend it with my son,” she told the court, her composure cracking slightly.

She told Castro, “I will live on, but you will die a little every day.” She also told him, “I can forgive you, but never forget”.

Alex Perez

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