Ariel Castro, the Cleveland bus driver who repeatedly sexually abused three women he held prisoner for about a decade, said knew his life was over when he first spoke to authorities after his arrest in May.
On Friday, Castro formally pleaded guilty to more than 900 counts of criminal behavior and accepted a plea deal that will keep him in prison for the rest of his life, but will spare him the death penalty.
During more than two hours of televised proceedings, Castro firmly answered a barrage of questions from Judge Michael J. Russo seeking to ensure that the 53-year-old knew what was coming.
Unlike previous appearances in court, Castro this time appeared engaged, looking up at the judge rather than down at the floor and speaking clearly. He wore glasses for the first time and said he was able to see his surroundings.
The result was inevitable, Castro told the court. He said he knew after his arrest May 6 that 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 later.
Assured by the defendant that he understood he was admitting to hundreds of horrendous acts and acknowledging that he understood his life will end behind bars, Russo formally accepted Castro’s guilty plea and set sentencing for next Thursday.
The recommended sentence as part of the plea agreement is life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years, a formula designed to make sure Castro is never freed.
After the news broke that the three women had managed to escape from Castro’s house in a poor section of Cleveland, the city and the nation were shocked by the degree and duration of the captivity. Many sought to understand how the imprisonment could have gone on and why it began.
“My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind,” Castro said in court. He also said he had been sexually abused as a child, but the judge cut him off.
The women _ Amanda Berry, 27; Gina DeJesus, 23; and Michelle Knight, 32 _ were held in seclusion, sometimes chained within the home. The women disappeared between 2002 and 2004, when each was in her teens or early 20s.
Castro fathered a daughter by Berry, who told police that none of them ever saw a doctor. When the child was born on Christmas Day in 2006, Castro raped one of the other women, who had helped deliver the baby, officials said.
Knight said each of her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved and repeatedly punched her, the grounds for the charges that could have brought the death penalty.
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Prosecutors and defense lawyers have been working for weeks on a plea deal that was announced more than a month after the women broke their silence in a written statement. They said they were “hopeful for a just and prompt resolution” and had “great faith in the prosecutor’s office and the court.” On July 8, the three released a YouTube video, thanking people.
For the defense, the agreement means that Castro will not be executed, which was a possibility. The prosecution gets the assurance that Castro will never leave prison and the victims will not have to go through the ordeal of court appearances and reliving their horror in public. Taxpayers will save the cost of a long and expensive legal process that comes in capital cases.
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Castro had been scheduled for trial Aug. 5 on a 977-count indictment, but 40 counts were dropped as part of the deal.
Wearing handcuffs and an orange jail jumpsuit, the bearded Castro looked forward and repeatedly said he knew what was going on in court and that he agreed with the final disposition of the case.
“Are you fully aware of the terms and consent to the agreement?” Russo asked.
“I am aware of that,” Castro replied.
Russo asked whether Castro understood that he was pleading guilty and admitting to all that had been charged.
“Yes, your honor,” Castro replied.
As part of the plea deal, Castro’s home will be turned over to county officials and will be demolished.