Michelle Knight confronts Ariel Castro in court as emotional case ends

At the sentencing hearing Thursday in Cleveland, Ariel Castro made a rambling statement, and Michelle Knight delivered a victim impact statement. Amanda Berry was represented in court by her sister.

Tony Dejak/AP
Michelle Knight speaks during the sentencing phase for Ariel Castro Thursday, Aug. 1, in Cleveland. Three months after an Ohio woman kicked out part of a door to end nearly a decade of captivity, Castro, a onetime school bus driver faces sentencing for kidnapping three women and subjecting them to years of sexual and physical abuse.

[Updated 3:30 p.m. EDT] Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who kidnapped three women and then imprisoned and tortured them in his home for a decade, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years.

Last Friday, Mr. Castro accepted a plea agreement that spares him the death penalty. He pleaded guilty to 937 criminal counts of kidnapping, rape, and assault, among other charges. The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004 and were rescued in early May.

“There is no place in this city, no place in this country, nowhere in this world for those who enslave or assault others,” Judge Michael Russo told Castro.

The sentencing followed a rambling, nearly 20-minute testimonial from Castro, who apologized for his actions but insisted they resulted from sexual abuse in his childhood. He said he was subsequently addicted to pornography, which he suggested warped his ability to control his behavior.

“I’m sick. My sexual problems have been so bad on my mind that I’ve become impulsive,” he said.

While Michelle Knight, one of the three women, sat not far behind him in the courtroom, Castro denied beating the women. He described his household as one of “harmony” and said he was trying to maintain “a normal family.” He added that all the sex with the women was consensual and that “many times, the women would ask me for sex – many times.”

“I’m not trying to make excuses,” he said. “I know I’m 100 percent wrong. But they’re trying to say I’m a violent person. I’m not a violent person.”

Judge Russo responded to Castro’s statement by suggesting he did not understand the nature of his crimes. “You say you had a happy household, but I’m not sure there is anyone in America who would agree with you. You have extreme narcissism, and it seems rather pervasive,” he said.

Ms. Knight provided a victim impact statement. She said that she missed her son, who was born before her captivity, and wondered if she would ever see him alive again.

“I looked inside my heart and I would see my son, and I cried every night. I was so alone,” she said. “Days never got shorter, days turned into nights, nights turned into days, years turned into eternity.”

She addressed Castro directly, telling him he was a hypocrite for attending church services every Sunday and then “going home to torture” the women afterward.

“I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all of this that happened, and you will face hell in eternity. You will die a little every day as you think about 11 years and atrocities you inflicted on us,” she said. “I can forgive you, but I can’t ever forget.”

She added, “Writing this statement gave me strength to be a stronger woman and knowing there is more good than evil.”

Beth Serrano read a statement on behalf of her sister Amanda Berry, who is another of the three women. She told the judge that Ms. Berry was concerned about how public interest in the case could affect the 6-year-old daughter she conceived with Castro by rape.

“Amanda did not control a lot of things for a long time. Please let her have control over this so she can protect her daughter,” Ms. Serrano said.

Gina DeJesus, the third victim, did not appear in court, nor did she send a representative to speak on her behalf.

In the minutes leading up to the sentencing, and while Russo announced the sentencing itself, a dialogue between Castro and Russo was ongoing. When Russo mentioned the aggravated murder charge related to the five miscarriages that Castro forced upon Knight, Castro interrupted.

“What do you want to say? You pled guilty of it,” Russo said.

“That never happened.... I never killed anyone. I’m not a murderer,” Castro responded.

Later, when Russo ruled that Castro was not to have any contact with the victims, Castro asked, “Are you referring to my daughter also?”

“Yes, she is a victim,” Russo replied.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty described Castro as a “master manipulator” whose claims of mental illness are baseless. Mr. McGinty said that Castro accepted the plea agreement from his office only to avoid the death penalty and that he continues to take “no responsibility” for his actions.

“He said if he had to do it he would do it all over again,” McGinty said. “He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. There is no remorse.”

Castro, the prosecutor said, would often bring “missing persons” posters home to show the women that the community was looking for them, and he even attended a vigil that was held for them.

The four-hour sentencing hearing included testimony from eight expert witnesses, ranging from first responders to forensic scientists. Their testimony, along with crime-scene photographs, provided a more detailed description of the captivity and torture of the women.

The most harrowing testimony came from Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Andrew Burke, who led the courtroom through a step-by-step description of Castro’s home, which he had reconfigured into a prison. A scale model of the home, plus photographs that were broadcast via a courtroom video monitor, showed how Castro had fortified his home with locks, chains, and a homemade alarm system.

Bedroom windows were covered up with heavy wooden doors to prevent the women from viewing, or being seen by, the outside world. Ventilation was provided through holes cut in the room’s doors, which were fastened with locks from the hallway. Castro positioned a porch swing at the base of the landing to provide an obstacle for visitors thinking about going up the stairs, and heavy curtains were frequently used to block viewing from landings and doorways.

The home’s front and back doors were rigged with multiple alarm clocks that Agent Burke said were used as the alarm system, which could be activated by a switch in the rear of the house.

Burke also commented on photos of crime-scene evidence, as well as letters Castro wrote, apparently to himself. One included the phrase, “the bottom line is, I am a sexual predator.”

Burke also said that cash was discovered in the basement washing machine, which was used for an “internal barter economy” that Castro orchestrated with the women. They were rewarded with credit in exchange for their cooperation, and as they earned credit, he would then purchase their requested items.

Ninety-nine feet of chains weighing more than 92 pounds was recovered from the home, as well as a .357-caliber revolver, testified Joshua Barr, a state forensic scientist.

Other items included light-brown wigs Castro used to disguise the women for their limited appearances in daylight, as well as motorcycle helmets used when the women were chained to a basement support pole.

“It was surreal to me. I’ve been involved in missing-persons investigations for quite some time, so it was a difficult experience,” Burke said.

Castro is also forced to forfeit his possessions, including his firearm, home, and $22,000 in cash. He received a $100,000 fine and will be forced to pay court costs. His attorneys said they plan to file a motion Friday for the return of some personal items, including family photo albums, clothing, and motorcycles.

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