Ariel Castro accepts plea that spares his life – and his kidnapping victims

Facing 997 counts, including rape and aggravated murder, Ariel Castro opts for a plea deal for life plus 1,000 years in prison without parole, sparing himself the death penalty and the women he kidnapped from testifying.

Tony Dejak/AP
Ariel Castro, left, talks with defense attorney Jaye Schlachet during court proceedings Friday, July 26, in Cleveland. On Friday, he agreed to plead guilty to kidnapping and raping three Cleveland women, a move that spares him the death penalty.

The man accused of kidnapping three Cleveland women and keeping them captive in his house for a decade pleaded guilty Friday in a deal to avoid the death penalty.

As a result, Ariel Castro will be sentenced to life without parole plus 1,000 years, prosecutors said. The plea deal recommends that Mr. Castro never receive a parole hearing.

Mr. Castro is accused of kidnapping and hiding Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight in his house for a decade under brutal conditions, including repeatedly binding the women with chains or rope and forcing starvation, beatings, and sexual assault.

Castro had been charged with 977 counts, including kidnapping and rape, and two counts of aggravated murder for allegedly impregnating one of the women and then causing her to miscarry.

By negotiating a plea deal, prosecutors ensured that the women will not have to testify against Castro in court, something their lawyers said they wished to avoid. 

Last month a statement issued on behalf of the women said they were "hopeful for a just and prompt resolution" and had "great faith in the prosecutor's office and the court."

If Castro had not accepted the plea deal, his trial would have started Aug. 5. Prosecutors had said that they were considering seeking the death penalty under a fetal homicide law for the alleged miscarriage, Reuters reported. 

The original indictment charged Castro with 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, six counts of felonious assault, three counts of child endangerment, and one count of possessing criminal tools.

DNA tests revealed that Castro fathered a child, now six years old, with Ms. Berry during her captivity. The child also escaped with the women in May.

The three women disappeared between 2002 and 2004 when they were 21, 16, and 14 years old. Each woman has said she accepted a ride from Castro, according to the Associated Press

Castro, a former school bus driver, has been jailed since his arrest on May 6, shortly after the women escaped from the house.

In early July, the three women released a thank you video to supporters in which they spoke of their appreciation for the outpouring of support and their desire to move ahead with new lives. 

“I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family and friends," Berry said. “I’m getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely. I ask that everyone continue to respect our privacy and give us time to have a normal life.”

“I want everyone to know I’m doing just fine,” said Ms. Knight. “I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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