August 1, 2013
CLEVELAND — Ariel Castro was sentenced to life without parole on the charge of aggravated murder Thursday and received multiple years on various other charges related to kidnap and rape that totaled 1,000 years.
Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge Michael Russo emphasized that Castro would never leave prison and that the multiple sentences would be consecutive because of the severity of his crimes. Russo told Castro that the extreme sentence is meant “to punish you.”
“You don’t deserve to be out in our community,” Russo told Castro.
Russo also told Castro that he was to never try to contact his victims — Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus — or Berry’s daughter, whom Castro fathered.
Knight, one of the three women Castro has admitted to kidnapping and torturing in his Cleveland home, told him Thursday in court, “You took 11 years of my life away. I went through 11 years of hell, and now your hell is just beginning. You will face hell for an eternity. You will die a little every day. … You deserve to spend life in prison.”
Knight, in an emotional, nervous voice, told the court that she thought about her son, who was 2 when she was abducted, every day she was in captivity and that Christmases were especially hard because she wasn’t with him.
“I cried every night. I was so alone,” Knight said.
Knight arrived in the courtroom at the end of a late-morning recess, and Castro kept looking over his shoulder at her. Three deputies standing behind Castro told him to look toward the front of the courtroom and away from Knight.
Castro told the court in a rambling statement toward the end of the hearing, “I am not a monster. I am just sick. I have an addiction, just like an alcoholic has an addiction.” He also said, “I am not a violent person, and I do have value for human life.” Castro claims he is addicted to pornography.
“As God is my witness, I never beat these women as they say I did,” Castro said.
He also claimed he lived in “harmony” with the three women and the daughter he had with Berry, and he told the judge that sex with the women was consensual.
Judge Russo thanked Knight for her restraint during Castro’s statement.
After the hearing, Craig Weintraub, one of Castro’s defense attorneys, said that he didn’t believe Castro grasped the meaning of consensual sex, adding that Castro is struggling with mental illness, and he labeled Castro a sociopath.
Castro, as part of a bargain to avoid the death penalty, had pleaded guilty last Friday to kidnapping, raping and beating Knight, Berry and DeJesus. The plea deal stipulated that Castro would be sentenced to a minimum of life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years.
Knight was the only one of the victims to speak in court. DeJesus was represented by her cousin, Sylvia Colon, and Berry by her sister Beth Serrano.
“We will close this chapter of our lives,” Colon told Russo. She expressed appreciation to the police, prosecutors and community. To Castro’s family members, who were not present, she said, “We do not hold you accountable.”
She turned to Castro, and told him in Spanish: “May God have mercy on your soul,” and walked to her seat.
Serrano asked the court that Berry’s privacy — and that of Berry’s daughter — be respected so that someday, when the now-6-year-old is old enough to understand, Berry can explain to the girl what happened.
The three women, for the most part, have maintained a low profile since their rescue May 6, when Berry escaped from Castro’s home with her daughter and called for police.
In July, the women released a YouTube video to thank the community for its support, and Berry surprised a crowd last weekend when she walked onstage during a Cleveland concert and was greeted by cheering fans. She later returned to the stage at the invitation of rapper Nelly.
Knight wrote a note to the Cleveland police that the department posted on its Facebook page Wednesday.
“You don’t know how much I appreciate all your time & work collecting cards and gifts from people for me and the other girls,” Knight’s handwritten note stated. “I am overwhelmed by the amount of thoughts, love + prayers expressed by complete strangers … Life is tough. But I’m tougher. Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.”
The sentencing hearing opened Thursday with testimony by Cleveland police officer Barb Johnson. Johnson was one of the first officers on the scene May 6.
Johnson said that in the ambulance after they were rescued, the three victims told of repeated beatings by Castro and described how they helped Berry give birth at Castro’s house.
Detective Andy Harasimchuk of the Cleveland Police Department Sex Crimes Unit told the court that all three women told him they were repeatedly sexually assaulted — vaginally, anally and orally — during the entire time they were held.
Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Jacobs testified that Castro referred to himself during an interview in May as a sexual predator and said that he abducted the women to satisfy his sexual needs. Jacobs also said Castro said that he knew what he did was wrong.
Investigators found a handwritten letter in Castro’s house in which he declared, “I am a sexual predator,” FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke testified. Castro also wrote in the letter that he had been sexually abused as a child and said he has an addiction to pornography.
Assistant prosecutor Blaise Thomas, speaking with reporters during a break in the hearing, said that when prosecutors met with Castro for him to sign over the deed to his home, Castro teared up and said, “I don’t understand why you have to tear my house down. I have so many happy memories there with Gina, Amanda and Michelle.” Thomas said, “That’s the true Ariel Castro.”
Castro, a former school bus driver, kidnapped the women from the streets of Cleveland’s west side, then imprisoned them for a decade, court records state. During their captivity, he raped and beat the women, chained them in his basement, and allowed them outside only a few times, the records show.
DNA analysis also shows that Castro fathered Berry’s daughter, and prosecutors say he impregnated Knight and then beat her to force a miscarriage. It was that act that resulted in the aggravated murder charge and a possible death penalty.
After last Friday’s plea bargain hearing, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty described Castro as a manipulator without remorse who would not leave prison “except nailed in a box or in an ash can.” Castro pleaded guilty to 937 charges, including aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping.