Judge sentences Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro to life, plus 1,000 years
CLEVELAND (CNN) — [Breaking news alert, 1:53 p.m. ET]
“There is no place in this city, there is no place in this country, there is no place in this world for those who enslave others,” Judge Michael Russo told kidnapper Ariel Castro.
The court in Cuyahoga County is seizing the property of Ariel Castro and imposing a fine of $100,000 on him, in addition to his massive sentence.
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“A person can only die in prison once,” Judge Michael Russo told Ariel Castro Thursday in handing down a sentence of life in prison plus 1,000 years. The judge called the sentence “commensurate with the harm you’ve done.”
Russo, noting that Castro treated his victims as “slaves,” said consecutive sentences rendered in his case must be “imposed” to protect the public and “to punish you.”
“You don’t deserve to be out in our community,” he said. “You’re too dangerous.”
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Though the lengthy sentencing process is still ongoing, Judge Michael Russo has already sentenced kidnapper Ariel Castro to hundreds of years in prison, mostly in eight- to 10-year consecutive blocks. Russo said Castro “will never be released from incarceration during the period of his remaining natural life for any reason.”
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Ariel Castro took issue with the aggravated murder charge related to the allegation that his abuse terminated the pregnancy of one of his victims, saying there was no evidence the incident occurred. Judge Michael Russo reminded him that he pleaded guilty, and Castro said he did so only to save his victims further psychological trauma.
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Judge Michael Russo said children of Ariel Castro were acquainted with the kidnap victims and that was a factor in Castro’s abduction “strategy.”
“That was your entree,” he told Castro.
Noting that Ariel Castro had an “outwardly” normal relationship with a girlfriend, Russo told the kidnapper during his sentencing hearing it’s clear “you are able to choose who you wish to victimize.”
“In your mind, there was harmony and a happy household,” Russo said. “I’m not sure there’s anyone else in America who would agree with you.”
He called Castro’s behavior “anti-social personality disorder” and told him “you have extreme narcissism and it seems rather pervasive.”
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Judge Michael Russo finds that Ariel Castro fits the definition of a “violent sexual predator.” Castro tried to argue with the terminology, but Russo tells Castro he has already admitted to being one by “virtue of your plea.”
Moments earlier, Russo also complimented kidnap victim Michelle Knight for showing “remarkable restraint” during Castro’s statement during his sentencing hearing.
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Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro, speaking at his sentencing hearing Thursday, turned around in the court and glanced at family members of the victims. “I am truly sorry,” he said.
“Thank you victims. Please find it in your heart to forgive me,” he said at the conclusion of his statement.
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Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro, speaking at his sentencing hearing, said, “I’m not a violent person. I simply kept them there so they couldn’t leave.” He was referring to the three women he held captive for about a decade.
Castro said he knew what he did was wrong, but he argued that the “accusations that I would come home and beat them” are “totally wrong.” “I’m not a monster. I’m just sick. I have an addiction. Just like an alcoholic has an addiction.”
“God as my witness, I never beat these women like they’re trying to say that I did. I never tortured them,” he said.
Castro admitted that he drove past his own daughter, failing to give her a ride, so he could kidnap his second victim, Gina DeJesus. He said he did it because “I was driven by sex.”
“I am truly sorry for what happened,” he said.
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Describing himself as a “very emotional person,” Ariel Castro said during his sentencing hearing that “these people are trying to paint me as a monster and I’m not a monster. I’m sick.”
“I believe I am addicted to porn to the point that it makes me impulsive and I lost it,” he said, adding he’s “not trying to make excuses.”
“I’m a happy person inside,” he added.
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Tim McGinty, Cuyahoga County prosecutor, stressed there’s no backing to the claim that Ariel Castro suffered from mental illness. “He is responsible,” he said, likening him to murderers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. “He has no excuse.”
When asked what Castro would do if he could go back and do things differently, the kidnapper responded that he’d do it all over again, McGinty said. “He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong,” McGinty said. “There is no remorse.”
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During Ariel Castro’s sentencing hearing, prosecutor Anna Faraglia said that Castro “tormented (his victims) by allowing them to watch their vigils … and even had the audacity to attend them.” She further said that Castro would talk to his victims’ parents as if he were distraught by their disappearances when “they were right underneath his roof.”
Defense attorney Craig Weintraub then told the judge that he felt some of the testimony presented was inappropriate because “these were really private matters,” the sentence had been agreed upon prior to the hearing and Castro waived his right to challenge the facts of the case. Judge Michael Russo responded that he felt the testimony and evidence was necessary to help him guide his decision on whether to accept the sentence.
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Michelle Knight, one of Ariel Castro’s kidnap victims, said in court she missed her son during her ordeal in captivity. “I cried every night. I was so alone. I worried what would happen to me and the other girls every day,” she said at Castro’s sentencing hearing Thursday.
Kidnapping victim Michelle Knight told her captor, Ariel Castro, during his sentencing hearing, “You took 11 years of my life away. … I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning.”
“I can forgive you, but I will never forget,” she said in her statement to Castro, calling him a hypocrite.
“Nobody should go through what I went through,” she said tearfully. She called another victim, Gina DeJesus, her “teammate” saying the woman saved her when she was “dying from his abuse.”
Knight said she “will overcome what happened” but Castro “will face hell for eternity.”
“I will live on. You will die a little every day.”
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Sylvia Colon, cousin and spokeswoman for kidnap victim Gina DeJesus, told Ariel Castro’s family that “we do not hold you accountable” for Castro’s crimes.
Colon, speaking at Ariel Castro’s sentencing hearing Thursday, added, “It is not for us to judge or determine any punishment. Only a higher power can do that.” She was speaking at Ariel Castro’s sentencing
Beth Serrano, sister of kidnap victim Amanda Berry, said her sister doesn’t want to speak of the horrors she went through because she doesn’t want her daughter to hear details about the case. “She will do anything to protect her daughter.” She was speaking at Ariel Castro’s sentencing hearing,
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Michelle Knight, one of three women held captive for a decade by Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro, entered the courtroom after a break in his sentencing hearing Thursday.
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They were forced to play Russian roulette. He threw money at them after sex. He reconfigured his entire home to keep their whereabouts a secret.
And it was all to “purely satisfy his sexual needs,” Det. David Jacobs of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office testified Thursday during the sentencing hearing for Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro.
Castro’s victims were subjected to a “complete and comprehensive captivity,” forensic psychiatrist Dr. Gregory Saathoff said during the Cleveland kidnapper’s sentencing hearing.
Saathoff initially wrote upon learning of the kidnappings, “The scope and magnitude of Ariel Castro’s crimes is unprecedented,” but he said that an examination of the defendant showed “no psychiatric illness whatsoever.”
Already in the testimony, witnesses have recounted Castro forcing the girls to play Russian roulette, throwing money at them after sexually abusing them, his admission that he’s a “criminal” and “sexual predator” and the measures he took to keep the women’s whereabouts a secret.
Explaining how women the age of Castro’s victims typically are learning how to be intimate in life, psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, a pioneer in trauma science, described the mental damage the women suffered.
“This was not real intimacy. This was a perversion of intimacy,” Ochberg said, further describing the women’s survival and coping skills as “marvelous, compelling examples of resilience, of imagination, of humanity.”
While Castro faces the possibility of spending the rest of his days in prison, Ochberg said the women will experience “life sentences” themselves and the horrific memories are not going away.
Testimony kicked off with Barbara Johnson, the Cleveland police officer who first responded to kidnapper Ariel Castro’s home. She recalled finding Michelle Knight and Georgina DeJesus after hearing the pitter-patter of footsteps in a dark room.
Knight “literally launched herself” into another officer’s arms,” Johnson said, “legs, arms, just choking him. She just kept repeating, ‘You saved us! You saved us!’ “
Johnson said the kidnapping victims were scared, pale, talkative and didn’t want to be left alone.
After the women were rescued in May, Castro was quick to tell police that his brothers had no involvement in the kidnappings and it was in that context that he told authorities, “I’m a criminal,” but he showed no remorse at that time, said .
” ‘I knew what I did was wrong.’ He said that more than once,” Jacobs said, explaining how Castro cooperated with police.
Castro had a gun in the home that he told Jacobs he would “show to the girls as a form of control.” Asked if he had ever forced the girls to play Russian roulette, Castro told Jacobs that he didn’t remember it, “but if the girls said it, it probably happened.”
FBI agent Andrew Burke said he had been familiar with DeJesus’ and Amanda Berry’s disappearances prior to their discovery earlier this year. Asked if he remembered the moment he saw them, Burke recalled first laying eyes on the three adult victims and Berry’s daughter in an ambulance outside Castro’s home.
“I’ll never forget it,” Burke said, explaining the women appeared dehydrated and malnourished. “It was surreal to me. I had been involved in the missing persons investigations for quite some time.”
Shown photos and a model of Castro’s home, Burke described a residence equipped with an alarm on the back door, a bedspread separating the kitchen and living area, a porch swing obstructing a flight of stairs and a curtain over the stairs leading to the area where the women were held captive.
The door to the room where Berry and her daughter were held had no doorknob and could be secured from the outside. Because the windows in that room were boarded up from the inside, Burke said, a hole was cut in the door for ventilation.
Authorities also found a “significant amount” of cash in a washing machine in the house. On occasion, Castro would throw the money at the women after sexually abusing them and require that they pay him to pick up any special items for them when he left the house, the agent said.
Also found in the home was a handwritten letter in which Castro described how he victimized his captives and declared, “I am a sexual predator,” Burke said. The letter also noted that Castro himself had been sexually abused as a child and mentioned an addiction to pornography and masturbation.
On cross-examination, Burke said the Castro also expressed remorse and said he was sick and mentally ill, but the FBI agent did not concur with the defense’s characterization of the letter as a suicide note.
Gerald Maloney, the emergency room doctor on duty when the three victims were taken to the hospital, described them as “very much emotionally fragile at the time” and said Knight requested that no male physicians attend to her.
The women told Maloney that they had been sexually and physically abused and, at times, deprived of food during their years of captivity.
Castro lured DeJesus into his car in 2004 by asking her for help locating his daughter, said Det. Andrew Harasimchuk, recalling DeJesus’ statement to him. Castro then told DeJesus he had to go home for money before asking her for help moving a speaker, the detective said.
She became uncomfortable, and Castro told her she had to leave through a different door than the one she entered through. When she walked through that door, she found herself in the basement of his home, Harasimchuk said. Castro then chained her to a center support pole in the basement, bound her hands with plastic ties and sexually assaulted her, the detective said.
All three women told Harasimchuk that they had been repeatedly raped “vaginally, orally and anally” during their captivity, he said.
Castro pleaded guilty last week to 937 counts, including murder and kidnapping, in a deal that dropped a possible death penalty in exchange for life in prison plus 1,000 years.
At the beginning of his hearing, a shackled Castro, flanked by his lawyers and wearing an orange prison uniform and eyeglasses, quietly told the judge he understood the reporting requirements of his sex-offender status, should he ever be released, which is unlikely given the plea deal.
Defense attorney Craig Weintraub told the court that his client accepts “full responsibility” for his conduct. Noting that Castro promptly took responsibility for his crimes, Judge Michael Russo said that given the scope of the crimes, “I don’t know that this could’ve been any more dignified.”
With a model of Castro’s home in the courtroom, another defense attorney, Jaye Schlachet, said he did not approve of anything but the victims’ impact statements being introduced during the sentencing hearing. He also mentioned doctors’ reports and photos as other examples of things he felt shouldn’t be presented in court.
Russo later responded that he wanted to see records pertaining to the case and hear testimony to ensure that “the court can reach and appropriate sentence.”
Castro is expected to speak at length during his sentencing, delivering a statement that his sister promises will allow people to see “the other side of Ariel Castro.”
He’ll give a rather lengthy statement, explaining his life and who he really is, his sister, Marisol Alicea, told CNN on Wednesday night.
“(People will) see the other side of Ariel Castro … not the monster that everyone thinks he is,” she said, adding that she was in no way defending her brother.
“He must pay for what he did.”
Alicea said she doesn’t plan on attending the sentencing with others in her family, fearing the evidence will be too graphic.
Hearing to last hours
The sentencing hearing is expected to last hours and include witness testimony and evidence, a Cuyahoga County court source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CNN.
Prosecutors want to make sure there’s a record going forward in case of a future appeal, should Castro want to try to get out of prison, said the source who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Prosecutors also want the court and the public to understand the impact Castro’s actions had on his victims and the community.
At least one of Castro’s victims, Knight, will likely make an impact statement during the hearing, Alicea said. An official with direct knowledge of the investigation also said Knight intends to speak.
In a handwritten note, posted Wednesday on the Cleveland Police Community Relations Facebook page, Knight said she was overwhelmed with the support she has received from “complete strangers.”
“It is comforting. Life is tough, but I’m tougher,” she wrote. “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly. Thanks.”
The other two women — DeJesus and Berry — will not be present in the court, according to the attorney representing the three women. They could make a videotaped statement, or a family member could talk on their behalf.
Evaluating a kidnapper
Prosecutors also have submitted an evaluation of Castro’s confinement and abuse of Knight, DeJesus and Berry that was compiled by acclaimed psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, considered a pioneer in trauma science.
The evaluation was part of the prosecution’s pre-sentencing report, which has been submitted to the court.
The evaluation — using statements, medical records, videotaped interviews and transcripts — painted a horrifying picture of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Castro that included brutal beatings and repeated rapes that resulted in pregnancies that he would end by punching the women in the stomach.
“He appeared to be evolving in an ever more dangerous direction, capturing younger and younger women, telling his captives he was hunting for replacements,” Ochberg wrote.
Castro abducted Knight, Berry and DeJesus separately over a two-year period between 2002 and 2004, according to investigators.
Promise of a ride
In each case, Castro lured the women into his car with the promise of a ride, according to court documents submitted by Timothy McGinty, Cuyahoga County prosecuting attorney.
Castro “enticed” Knight to go inside the house, where she would be held captive in the next 11 years, with “promises of a puppy for her son.”
The documents also say that Castro “serially abused (Knight, Berry and DeJesus) physically, emotionally, and sexually on a daily basis.”
All three women kept diaries, with Castro’s permission, providing many of the details used in the case.
Knight suffered “the longest”
The women and Berry’s 6-year-old daughter were held in Castro’s 1,400-square-foot home. DNA tests have confirmed that Castro is the child’s father.
In the evaluation, Ochberg wrote that Knight, who was kidnapped first, suffered “the longest and most severely.”
“But it was Michelle who served as doctor, nurse, midwife and pediatrician during the birth (of Berry’s child). She breathed life into that infant when she wasn’t breathing,” he wrote.
“At other times, she interceded when Castro sought to abuse Gina, interposing herself and absorbing physical and sexual trauma. But each survivor had a will to prevail and used that will to live through the ordeal.”
When freedom came
The women were freed in May after Berry shouted for help while Castro was away.
Neighbor Charles Ramsey said he heard their cries as he was sitting down to eat.
“I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house,” he told CNN affiliate WEWS. “I go on the porch and she says, ‘Help me get out. I’ve been in here a long time.'”
Finally free, Berry pleaded for a phone.
“Help me, I am Amanda Berry,” she frantically told a 911 operator. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here, I’m free now.”
In early July, Berry, DeJesus and Knight released a YouTube video offering their thanks to all those who have helped them since they were freed. They have not faced their captor and tormentor since their rescue.
“I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal. Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing,” Berry said in the video. “I’m getting stronger each day.”