CLEVELAND — The Ohio man convicted of holding three women captive in his Cleveland house over a decade and raping them repeatedly has been sentenced to life without parole.
Fifty-three-year-old Ariel Castro was being given his sentence Thursday. He had pleaded guilty to 937 counts including aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape and assault.
He got the life term for the most serious count and was getting additional time for the hundreds of other counts.
A plea deal struck last week spared him from a possible death sentence for beating and starving a pregnant victim until she miscarried.
The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
They escaped to freedom May 6 when one of them, Amanda Berry, broke out part of the door to Castro’s house and yelled to neighbors for help.
One of three women kidnapped and repeatedly rape for a decade before their escape told her abductor Thursday that her life is just beginning while his is over now.
Michelle Knight stood just feet away Ariel Castro in a Cleveland courtroom, the first time she’s been seen publicly since her rescue from the house where she was held captive.
“You took 11 years of my life away and I have got it back,” she told Castro. “I spent 11 years in hell. Now you’re hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this has happened, but you will face hell for eternity.”
Knight, 32, did not face Castro as she spoke, but he glance toward her several times after she entered the courtroom. She was the first woman abducted Castro in 2002 after he lured her into his house with the promise of a puppy for her son.
Castro later made a rambling statement in which he blamed his sex addiction, his former wife and even the FBI for not thoroughly investigating the abductions. He apologized to his victims but also claimed most of the sex was consensual.
“These people are trying to paint me as a monster,” he said. “I’m not a monster. I’m sick.”
He also claimed the women lived a happy life with him. “We had a lot of harmony that went on in that home,” he said.
Knight was the first woman abducted Castro in 2002 after he lured her into his house with the promise of a puppy for her son.
Castro has pleaded guilty to charges that he repeatedly raped Knight and two other victims, and also forced Knight to miscarry after he impregnated her.
Prosecutors detailed Ariel Castro’s assaults and law enforcement witnesses described the jury-rigged prison he built in his ramshackle home. With the possibility of the death penalty for a forced miscarriage taken off the table, Castro stands to get life in prison plus 1,000 years.
FBI agent Andrew Burke said Castro turned his house into a prison by creating a makeshift alarm system and chaining them inside bolted bedrooms.
Bedroom windows were boarded shut from the inside with heavy closet doors and doorknobs had been removed and replaced with multiple locks, he said. The house was divided in ways to make it more secure and to hide the existence of rooms, he said.
Burke also testified that Castro would occasionally pay his victims after raping them. But he then would require them to pay him if they wanted something special from the store.
The letter written by Castro was found in his home and shown in court. It read “Confession and Details” at the top.
Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Detective Dave Jacobs said he talked with Castro a few days after the women escaped and that Castro said, “I knew what I did was wrong.”
Early in the hearing, Castro tried to apologize to the victims, but after speaking with the judge said he would do that later in the proceeding.
A police officer who helped rescue the women said one was reluctant to come out of her room even when she saw the officers. They were scared even after they were taken out of the house and quickly began sharing details about the horrors they went through, saying that they had been starved and beaten.
“They were just shouting out a lot of things,” said Cleveland police officer Barb Johnson. She described the women as thin, pale and scared.
Responding to questions from prosecutors, Cleveland police detective Andrew Harasimchuk said that the women all described a pattern of being physically, sexually and emotionally assaulted for years. He said all three women were abducted after Castro offered them a ride and that each was chained in his basement and sexually assaulted within a few hours of being kidnapped.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said in a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday that Castro, who fed his captives only one meal a day, “admits his disgusting and inhuman conduct” but “remains remorseless for his actions.”
The memorandum described a diary kept by one of the women.
“The entries speak of forced sexual conduct, of being locked in a dark room, of anticipating the next session of abuse, of the dreams of someday escaping and being reunited with family, of being chained to a wall, of being held like a prisoner of war ... of being treated like an animal,” it says.
The sentencing could take up to four hours, court officials said, with Castro, his attorneys, his victims and prosecution witnesses getting a chance to speak. The legal team representing the women’s interests declined to comment on whether they would testify or send statements to the court.
Prosecutors used a model of the house where Castro, 53, imprisoned the women to present their case. They also showed photos taken from inside the disheveled home.
The women quickly escaped after Amanda Berry kicked out the door panel on May 6 and Castro was arrested within hours. The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
Some horrific details of the women’s ordeal had already emerged, including tales of being chained to poles in the basement or a bedroom heater or inside a van, with one woman forced to wear a motorcycle helmet while chained in the basement and, after she tried to escape, having a vacuum cord wrapped around her neck.
Castro repeatedly starved and beat one of the victims each time she was pregnant, forcing her to miscarry five times.
He forced the same woman on threat of death to safely deliver the child he fathered with another victim on Christmas Day 2006. The same day, prosecutors say, Castro raped the woman who helped deliver his daughter.
As part of his plea deal, Castro was to receive a sentence of life with no chance of parole for aggravated murder in the forced miscarriage. He would then receive 1,000 years for the kidnapping, rape, assault and other charges.
Berry, 27, made a surprise onstage appearance at a rap concert last weekend, and a second victim, Gina DeJesus, 23, has made a few televised comments. Knight, 32, appeared with Berry and DeJesus in a video in early July thanking the community for its support.
Knight, the first of three to disappear, also sent police a handwritten letter thanking them for their help collecting cards and gifts for the women. In the note, Knight told Second District Cmdr. Keith Sulzer, “Life is tough, but I’m tougher!”