Cleveland kidnap case: Will the 3 women have to testify to ordeal?
Ariel Castro, facing 329 criminal counts in connection with the kidnap and abuse of three Cleveland women, is back in court Wednesday. If he contests the charges, the women will need to testify, no matter how difficult that challenge.
The three Cleveland women whom authorities say were kidnapped and suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse for about a decade appear destined to recount their experiences in a public courtroom, given that the man charged with the crimes plans to plead not guilty.Skip to next paragraph
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A plea deal would have spared the women – Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight – the often-wrenching ordeal of testifying in public about details of the alleged crimes, which include rape and sexual assault. But Ariel Castro, a former Cleveland bus driver charged with keeping them hostage and inflicting the systemic abuse, is expected to fight the 329 charges authorities leveled against him last week, his lawyer told Reuters Sunday, setting in motion a trial that gives him the right to confront his accusers.
“Any testimony they are going to use at the trial has to be public,” says Michael Benza, a senior instructor of law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “There isn’t a lot that can be done to prevent it because the defendant enjoys a right to confront the witnesses against him.”
Among the criminal counts Mr. Castro faces are aggravated murder (by causing miscarriages), rape, kidnapping, and sexual assault in connection with the alleged imprisonment of the three women, two of whom were teenagers when they disappeared. The indictments cover August 2002 until February 2007, and prosecutors in Ohio's Cuyahoga County say more are forthcoming. Castro, who is being held on an $8 million bond, will be arraigned on these newest changes Wednesday and is expected to enter a plea.
A trial judge is also expected to be named Wednesday, starting a process that means the three women will eventually confront Castro in a courtroom, where they are expected to testify that he repeatedly tortured and raped them, kept them isolated in rooms while in chains, and very rarely allowed them to leave the house. A 6-year-old girl discovered in the home is reportedly Ms. Berry’s daughter, conceived after allegedly being raped by Castro.
While the women must testify in public, the court can take steps to diminish their anguish, say legal experts. A judge can clear the courtroom of spectators during testimony, or establish a physical barrier between the women and the public to hide their faces, says Daniel Coyne, a criminal law professor at the Kent College of Law in Chicago who specializes in prosecuting cases of sexual violence.
“There are a variety of ways to accommodate people with some emotional concern about reliving the event through testimony,” Mr. Coyne says. “While we have public courtrooms, some judges may rule that the right and dignity of the victim supersedes the rights of the public.”
A judge also has authority to decide if a fixed pool camera for the media is permissible, and, if so, what accommodations can be made to protect the witnesses' identity. One notable example is the William Kennedy Smith rape trial in 1991 in which the victim’s face was blurred on video.