CLEVELAND – A man accused of kidnapping three women, keeping them captive in his Cleveland home for a decade and raping them repeatedly is waiting to be sentenced after pleading guilty in a deal to avoid the death penalty.
Ariel Castro, 53, a former school bus driver, pleaded guilty Friday to 937 counts in the deal, which sends him to prison for life without parole, plus 1,000 years.
Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, eyeglasses and a bushy beard, Castro was far more engaged than in previous court appearances when he mostly kept his head down and eyes closed. He answered the judge's questions in a clear voice, saying he understood that he would never be released from prison and adding that he expected he was "going to get the book thrown at me."
He told the judge he was addicted to pornography, had a "sexual problem" and was himself the victim of sexual abuse long ago.
"My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind," he said.
The judge accepted Castro's plea, declared him guilty, and set his sentencing for Thursday.
The women, who did not attend the court proceeding, said in a statement they were relieved by the conviction.
"They are satisfied by this resolution to the case, and are looking forward to having these legal proceedings draw to a final close," said the statement released on their behalf.
Castro's uncle, Julio Castro, who has run a nearby corner store for 44 years, said the ordeal will be with the family the rest of their lives.
"He's getting what he deserves," Castro, 77, said. "Nobody has the right to incarcerate you for 10 years."
The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s. Each said she had accepted a ride from Castro, who had remained friends with the family of one of the women and attended vigils over the years marking her disappearance.
The women escaped from his home May 6 when one of them kicked out part of a door and called to neighbors for help. Castro was arrested and jailed shortly afterward.
He had been scheduled for trial in August on a 977-count indictment, but 40 counts were dropped Friday as part of the plea deal.
Castro was accused of restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. The indictment included two counts of aggravated murder related to accusations that he punched and starved one of the women until she miscarried.
Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight disappeared when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Castro fathered a 6-year-old daughter with Berry, now 27, authorities say.
Prosecutors said Friday they will recommend at the sentencing that Castro have no contact with the girl he fathered. There's "zero chance" he'll ever be allowed to see her, Prosecutor Tim McGinty said.
McGinty said the county will use more than $20,000 seized from Castro to tear down his house within a month, and two abandoned houses next door will be razed and a vacant lot acquired for a park.