At first glance, the man accused of kidnapping and torturing three women in Cleveland is facing a hefty number of charges – more than 300 counts. And prosecutors say they expect to add more within two weeks.
But the lengthy period over which the alleged crimes occurred, coupled with the high-profile nature of the case, all but guarantees that the number of charges against Ariel Castro will be high, legal analysts say.
Earlier this month, a grand jury indicted Mr. Castro on 139 counts of rape and 177 counts of kidnapping – covering the time from August 2002, when Michelle Knight disappeared, to February 2007. Castro was also charged with two counts of aggravated murder for allegedly forcing Ms. Knight to suffer miscarriages.
Prosecutors say they are weighing whether to pursue the death penalty for the aggravated-murder charge.
At a pretrial hearing Wednesday, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said his office would present additional evidence to a grand jury – presumably for the period from February 2007 to May of this year, when the three women gained their freedom.
“We expect that we are going to request further indictments to cover the additional period, and we are going to close that process as soon as possible,” Mr. McGinty said.
Another hearing is scheduled for June 26.
The charges against Castro are coming in two installments to make the process easier for the three women, says Carmen Naso, an assistant professor of law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Because of their fragile emotional state, he says, law enforcement would have been “reckless” in pushing them for everything immediately after their escape.
“This status is probably the result of [prosecutors] not getting all of the information in total at one time and then going to the grand jury, but them getting sufficient information and establishing a metric to account for how long they were captive,” Professor Naso says.
The indictment process can’t go on indefinitely, however: Speedy law provisions in Ohio give defendants the right to a trial within 90 days.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael Russo has set a trial date of Aug. 4. But it’s likely that Craig Weintraub, Castro’s defense attorney, will request an extension so their case can be fully prepared.
Castro has pleaded not guilty.
Then again, it is “very likely” the case will never reach the trial stage, Naso says. Mr. Weintraub suggested to reporters Wednesday that Castro may be considering a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty.
“We are very concerned about having the women go through the stress of a trial,” Weintraub said. “It is not our intent to have to do that, and there are definitely charges in this case that we cannot dispute.”
Considerations in a plea agreement, Naso says, include how much the victims are willing to recount their traumatic experiences in public and how certain the prosecution is in securing the death penalty.
“I’m sure what the victims say will be very influential in the ultimate decision [whether to go to trial], but it will not be definitive,” he says. “If there is nothing to lose by going to trial and perhaps convincing the jury that the death penalty is appropriate, then this will go to trial.”