Ohio kidnapper pleads guilty, accepts will die in jail
An American man who kidnapped three women and held them for a decade as sex slaves agreed Friday to serve life in prison in a deal that allows him to escape the death penalty.
Ariel Castro, a 53-year-old Ohio bus driver, told a court in Cleveland that he had agreed to serve a life sentence plus 1,000 years for a string of violent and sexual offenses.
The deal allows him to escape execution, which he could have faced if he had later been convicted at trial of the murder of an unborn fetus carried by one of his victims.
"Because of the plea deal, I will plead guilty," he said, as Judge Michael Russo read the first count -- one of aggravated murder -- on the lengthy charge sheet.
He went on to plead guilty to each of hundreds of counts of rape, violence and kidnapping.
Both defense and prosecution teams said they had approved the plea, which the defendant had signed.
"Do you understand Mr. Castro, that upon entering this plea, you will never leave prison alive?" Russo asked Castro.
"I do," the bearded suspect said, sitting between his lawyers wearing glasses, hand cuffs and an orange prison uniform, occasionally drinking from a disposable cup.
He spoke politely and, although he noted that he did not like the language used on some of the indictments, did not protest his treatment.
Castro was arrested on May 6 after 27-year-old missing person Amanda Berry managed to escape from his home in a working class district of the northern city of Cleveland, along with the young daughter she bore in captivity.
Police arrived at the scene and rescued two more local women -- Michelle Knight, 32, and Gina DeJesus, 23 -- from the house.
All three victims had been kidnapped separately around ten years previously, held at the house, chained up and repeatedly raped.
The first of the 977 charges in the 576 page booklet, on a table before Castro, was one of aggravated murder with a sexual motivation, relating to his violent termination of Knight's pregnancy.
This offense alone will send him to jail without the possibility of parole.
The judge said he expected a formal sentencing hearing to take place on August 1, when Castro and his victims will be able to address the court if they wish to do so.
"Do you think there is any reason, any hope, you might be getting out of prison before you die?" Russo asked.
"I don't think there is any reason, no," Castro replied.
Castro said he did not fully understand some of the counts because of psychological problems related to what he said was his "addiction to pornography."
"Well there are some things I have to, I don't comprehend because of my sexual problem throughout my years," he said, when asked if his lawyers had fully explained the charges.
The Puerto Rican-born unemployed former bus driver also said, without giving details, that he had also been a victim of sexual offenses in his youth.
The judge said he would have an opportunity to address such matters at his sentencing hearing, but repeatedly warned him that by agreeing to the plea deal he had accepted that he would never be released.
Castro said he had given up any right to a future appeal or challenge to the verdict, and that his house would be demolished and his possessions forfeited.