Cleveland kidnap accused may face death penalty

An Ohio prosecutor says he may seek the death penalty against the man accused of imprisoning three women at his home for about a decade for forcing them to suffer miscarriages.

Cleveland kidnap accused may face death penalty

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty says Ohio law calls for the death penalty for the “most depraved criminals who commit aggravated murder during the course of a kidnapping.” He says aggravated murder charges could be filed related to pregnancies terminated by force.

Ariel Castro is being held on $8m bail. The 52-year-old former school bus driver was under a suicide watch in jail, where he is being held on kidnapping and rape charges.

McGinty suggests the charges could number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

Castro is accused of kidnapping and raping the women. He appeared in court yesterday, his head bowed and his face turned away from spectators.

It was the first time the dark-haired, balding Ariel Castro had been seen in public since his arrest on Monday following the escape of three women and a child from his house in a neighbourhood of Cleveland, Ohio.

In Cleveland Municipal Court, Castro was expressionless, his hands in cuffs before Judge Lauren Moore, who set his bond at $2m for each of the women and the child who was born in captivity.

Castro’s home “was a prison to these three women and the child,” Cuyahoga County assistant prosecuting attorney Brian Murphy told the judge.

Castro had been formally charged on Wednesday with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. He neither spoke nor entered a plea during his initial court appearance yesterday.

Castro kept his face turned away from the gallery that was crowded with media and spectators. “He did not want to be on camera,” his court-appointed lawyer, Kathleen DeMetz, said after the hearing. She said Castro would need $800,000 cash to get out of jail.

DeMetz told the court that Castro was unemployed. He was fired from his job driving school buses last November.

The $8m bail set by the judge was higher than the $5m requested by the prosecutor. The judge also ordered Castro to have no contact with the victims or their families.

Officials said the three women were at times bound in chains or rope and endured starvation, beatings, sexual assaults and in the case of one of them, several miscarriages deliberately induced by their captor.

The imprisonment of the women and small child came to an end on Monday after neighbours, drawn to the house by cries for help, broke through a door to rescue Amanda Berry, whose disappearance in 2003, the day before her 17th birthday, was widely publicised in the local media.

The recording of her frantic emergency-911 call that evening, declaring, “I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m here. I’m free now,” has been replayed countless times on television news broadcasts around the world.

Rescued with Berry, now 27, was her 6-year-old daughter, conceived and born during her confinement, and two fellow captives — Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004, and Michelle Knight, 32, who went missing in 2002.

Initially, Castro’s two brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, were also arrested as suspects, but police said they were not charged after investigators determined they had no knowledge of the abductions or captivity of the women.

They appeared in court yesterday on unrelated outstanding minor charges and were released.

Berry told police that her escape on Monday had been her first chance to break free in the 10 years that she was held, seizing the opportunity during Castro’s momentary absence.

It also became clear that Berry’s pregnancy with her daughter was not an isolated incident, according to Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins, who based his information on a police report from the initial investigation and briefing bypolice department sources.

Cummins said one of the three women had suffered at least five miscarriages that Castro is accused of having intentionally caused by starving her for weeks and punching her in the abdomen. Cummins said he did not know which of the women it was.

Berry’s baby was born in a plastic inflatable children’s swimming pool on Christmas Day, 2006, authorities said. A paternity test will be conducted to determine the girl’s father.

All three women were held in the home’s basement for long periods, restrained with ropes and chains and occasionally starved. Authorities described the condition of the home as squalid. Cummins said the victims were kept apart in the house until their captor gained sufficient confidence in his control over them to allow them to mingle.

Authorities said the women recalled leaving the house just twice during their captivity, ushered on both occasions into a garage while disguised in wigs and hats.

The women also toldpolice their abductions occurred when Castro offered them rides and they accepted.

On Wednesday, after spending a day in seclusion following their hospital evaluations, Berry and DeJesus were each glimpsed by television cameras being whisked to join family members. Berry and her daughter were at her sister’s house and DeJesus was at her parent’s home where she lived before her abduction. Knight remained in a Cleveland hospital, where she was in good condition.

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