Ariel Castro now facing 977 charges in Cleveland: A statement by prosecutors?

A new indictment, announced Friday, nearly triples the number of charges against alleged Cleveland captor Ariel Castro following his arrest in May. He’s due to be arraigned again next Wednesday.

Mark Duncan/AP
Ariel Castro, who allegedly held three women captive for a decade, is led back to jail after a hearing in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in Cleveland, Wednesday.

Prosecutors in Cleveland are leveling a second set of charges against Ariel Castro, who is accused of kidnapping and holding captive three women in his home for a decade.

The new indictment, announced Friday, nearly triples the number of charges against Mr. Castro following his arrest in May. He now faces in total 977 criminal counts – including 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, six counts of felonious assault, and three counts of child endangerment.

“Today’s indictment moves us closer to resolution of this gruesome case. Our investigation continues, as does our preparation for trial,” Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said in a statement.

A previous indictment covered 329 counts and applied to the time period between August 2002, when the first woman disappeared, and February 2007. Friday’s indictment includes the earlier charges, and it adds others by extending the time period to May of this year, when the women gained their freedom.

Castro has already pleaded not guilty to the first set of charges. He is due in court next Wednesday to be arraigned on the new indictment.

Speedy law provisions in Ohio give defendants the right to a trial within 90 days. Prosecutors say they are ready for an Aug. 5 trial date.

The magnitude of the charges suggests that prosecutors want to make a statement about the horrors of the alleged crimes.

“That’s a pretty uncommon number of counts, and I’m sure that it’s designed to have great symbolic value,” says Daniel Filler, a criminal law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia and a former public defender in Philadelphia and the Bronx.

“If it was a case of no notoriety at all, I’m sure it would have been much simpler not to do it this way, but they want to make a very strong statement how intolerable his behavior was,” Professor Filler says. “It’s a shout to the world that this is absolutely intolerable.”

Prosecutors say they may choose to seek the death penalty related to aggravated murder charges. Castro reportedly forced Michelle Knight, one of the women, to suffer at least five miscarriages.

It remains uncertain if prosecutors will pursue all 977 counts in the trial, as it could force the women to testify to each incident they represent – a traumatic experience that many legal experts say their attorneys will want to avoid.

The more likely scenario is that prosecutors will streamline the charges to present a more powerful case – making it easier not just for the women, but also for the jury as it follows the proceedings.

“The prosecutors will make a strategic judgment about exactly which charges they will want to pursue as a practical matter,” Filler says. “He’ll get a very long sentence on two charges of rape, as much as [he would have gotten for] 400” counts.

The high number of counts could also be intended to persuade Castro to strike a plea deal and avoid trial. His defense attorney, Craig Weintraub, told reporters last month that his client was open to pursuing such a possibility.

“We are very sensitive to the emotional strain and the impact that a trial would have on the women, their families, and this community,” Mr. Weintraub said.

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