Michelle Knight was a young mother when Ariel Castro lured her into his house in 2002 with the promise of a puppy for her son. She stayed a prisoner in the Cleveland house for more than a decade, was impregnated five times, beaten and abused so severely that she endured five miscarriages.
On Thursday, she confronted the 53-year-old man who tortured her and who will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"I spent 11 years in hell," Ms. Knight told him. "Now, your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all that happened, but you're going to face hell for eternity.
"From this moment on, I am not going to let you define me or affect who I am," the diminutive Ms. Knight said in her first public appearance since she and two other women escaped in May. "I will live on, but you will die a little more inside each day, as you think of those 11 years and the atrocities you inflicted on us. ... The death penalty would be the easy way out. You don't deserve that. We want you to spend the rest of your life in prison."
The confrontation between Ms. Knight, 32, and her abuser came during a televised sentencing Thursday in a Cleveland courtroom. She spoke after statements from relatives of the other victims, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Amanda Berry, 27, who has a daughter by Castro.
The three were kidnapped separately between 2002 and 2004. Ms. Knight was 20 then; Ms. Berry, 16; and Ms. DeJesus, 14.
The sentencing hearing outcome was never in doubt after Castro accepted a plea deal last week that spared him the death penalty but meant that he would die in prison, serving life without any chance of parole.
Still, there was an air of unreality in the courtroom as Castro, dressed in orange jail garb, tried to explain what he had done. He apologized for his actions, but in a rambling statement -- at times, disjointed and, at times, defiant -- also tried to defend himself.
"These people are trying to paint me as a monster. I am not a monster. I am sick," Castro told Judge Michael Russo. Castro said he was addicted to pornography, but that was not an excuse for his actions. "I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me," he said later.
At one point, Castro said the abuse was consensual sex. "We had a lot of harmony that went on in that home," he said.
"I'm not sure there's anyone in America that would agree with you," Judge Russo said in handing down the maximum sentences to Castro for the "merciless manner" in which he tortured the women. "You may think you are the victim," the judge said. "But you are not a victim; you are a victimizer."
Earlier, the other two women's relatives said they were grateful for support they have received from Cleveland, but needed to move on with their lives.
Sylvia Colon, a cousin of Ms. DeJesus, spoke to Castro family members. "We are saddened that you are burdened with this horror and will unfortunately forever be tied to these atrocities," Ms. Colon said. "Please know that we do not hold you accountable, and pray that you can one day be whole again. ... Our family recognizes it is not for us to judge or determine any punishment. Only a higher power can do that.
"Today is the last day we want to think or talk about this. These events will not own a place in our thoughts or our hearts. We will continue to live and love," she said on Ms. DeJesus' behalf.
Much of Thursday's hearing was devoted to law enforcement officials describing the horrific scene at Castro's Seymour Avenue house, which has been forfeited to the county and will be demolished. New, even more graphic details of the imprisonment that shocked the nation were revealed.
Based on diary entries, officers told of how the women were chained to poles in the basement or to a bedroom heater, or kept at bay in a van. One woman was forced to wear a motorcycle helmet while chained in the basement and, after she tried to escape, had a vacuum cord wrapped around her neck, officials said.
Castro starved and beat Ms. Knight each time she became pregnant, forcing her to miscarry five times, authorities said. That abuse was the basis for an aggravated murder charge that could have brought the death penalty.
Castro also forced Ms. Knight to safely deliver on Christmas Day 2006 the child he fathered with Ms. Berry. That same day, prosecutors said, Castro raped Ms. Knight yet again.
Castro "tormented me constantly, especially on holidays," Ms. Knight said Thursday. "Christmas was the most traumatic day, because I didn't get to spend it with my son. No one should ever have to experience what we went through. Not even an enemy."
A letter believed to have been written by Castro that investigators retrieved from his home was displayed at the hearing. The letter read, in part, "Bottom line is, I am a sexual predator." Castro in his comments agreed with that characterization.
Images from inside Castro's home were also shown in court. One bedroom had stuffed animals, toys, an easel and a bedside toilet. The windows were boarded up, the door locked from the outside. Other photos showed the basement where Castro kept his victims, and a chain used to restrain them.
On May 6, Ms. Berry managed to kick out a door panel and call for help. Castro and two brothers were arrested hours later at a fast-food restaurant. The brothers were freed after authorities determined that they had no knowledge of the imprisoned women.
First Published August 2, 2013 4:00 AM