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US man fit for trial in Cleveland kidnap case: judge

Ariel Castro, pictured in court on May 9, 2013, is ruled competent to stand trial
Ariel Castro, pictured in court on May 9, 2013, is ruled competent to stand trial for holding three women prisoner for more than a decade.

A former school bus driver accused of holding three young women captive for a decade in his Cleveland, Ohio home is competent to stand trial, a US judge ruled Tuesday.

Ariel Castro, 52, could face the death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder for terminating the pregnancies of one of his victims by starving and beating her.

Castro, who has been on suicide watch, has kept his head bowed during all of his court appearances and mumbled answers to the Ohio judge's questions.

As the brief hearing came to a close, he asked the judge if he could have "contact with my child" -- meaning the six-year-old girl who was born in captivity.

"I won't be allowing that," Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo said in a live video feed of the proceedings.

"I think that would be inappropriate."

The stunning case came to light after Amanda Berry, 27, managed to escape with her young daughter by calling out to a neighbor for help through a locked front door.

Police found two more women huddled in the house: Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32. All three had been snatched in separate incidents in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

In earlier proceedings, Castro's attorneys conceded many of the more than 300 charges against him. They offered to plead guilty if prosecutors dropped efforts to seek the death penalty with the aggravated murder charges.

Prosecutors have shown no public interest in the offer to avoid a possibly traumatic trial and are preparing to present additional charges to a grand jury.

Judge Russo cautioned that if the superseding indictment includes the aggravated murder charges the case will be reassigned to another judge with more experience dealing with capital crimes.

He tentatively scheduled a jury summons to go out on August 5 but has not yet set a date for trial.