Ariel Castro pleads guilty over Ohio abductions to avoid death penatly

Ohio man – charged with 997 counts including kidnap and rape – agrees deal with prosecuctors that will spare him death penalty

A man accused of abducting three woman and holding them captive at his Ohio home for a decade pleaded guilty to multiple charges on Friday, as part of a plea deal that spared him from a death sentence.

Ariel Castro – charged with 977 counts over the kidnap, rape and brutal treatment of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight – agreed a deal with prosecutors under which he will serve life without parole, plus 1,000 years.

Asked in court in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday if he understood that he would spend the rest of his days behind bars, he replied: “I do understand that, your honour”. He added: “I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me.”

Castro, 53, had been due to stand trial over an indictment sheet that included two counts of aggravated murder over allegations that he punched and starved one of his captives until she miscarried.

The three victims – all of whom disappeared between 2002 and 2004 – escaped on 6 May, when one of them kicked out part of a door while being aided by a neighbour alerted to her screams for help.

The women were 14, 16, and 20 when they were abducted by Castro, a former school bus driver. Relief over their escape earlier this year quickly turned to horror as details emerged of their ordeal at his home in Cleveland.

For about a decade, Castro repeatedly abused them and kept them hidden from the world, often chaining them to a bedroom heater or a pole in his basement, prosecutors said.

Berry gave birth to a child, now six years old. On the day the daughter was born, Castro raped one of the other women, who had helped deliver the baby.

Other pregnancies never went to full term. Knight told prosecutors that she became pregnant five times but was starved and beaten up by Castro so she would miscarry.

Earlier this month, the three victims posted a video on YouTube, to thank the public for the support they had received since escaping from Castro’s house. “I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and my head held high,” Knight said.

She added: “I will not let the situation define who I am, I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred.”

Castro, who was picked up by police soon after Berry escaped the home, had initially intended to plead not guilty. If the case had gone to trial, the victims would probably have had to testify in court about their ordeal.

Prosecutors had the option of pursuing the death penalty in the case. But under the plea agreement announced on Friday, that option was ruled out.

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