Cleveland suspect may face murder charges

Bond set at $8 million for Ariel Castro, accused in Cleveland kidnappings

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CLEVELAND -- Prosecutors said Thursday that they may seek the death penalty against Ariel Castro, the man accused of imprisoning three women at his Cleveland home for a decade, as police charged that he impregnated one of his captives at least five times and made her miscarry by starving her and punching her in the belly.

The allegations were contained in a police report that also said another one of the women, Amanda Berry, was forced to give birth in a plastic kiddie pool.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said his office will decide whether to bring aggravated murder charges punishable by death in connection with the pregnancies that were terminated by force.

"Capital punishment must be reserved for those crimes that are truly the worst examples of human conduct," he said. "The reality is we still have brutal criminals in our midst who have no respect for the rule of law or human life."

Mr. Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, is being held on $8 million bail under a suicide watch in jail, where he is charged with rape and kidnapping.

Mr. McGinty said Mr. Castro will be charged for every act of sexual violence, assault and other crimes committed against the women, suggesting that the counts could number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

Mr. Castro did not say a word during his arraignment Thursday morning in Cleveland Municipal Court, even as assistant prosecutor Brian Murphy alleged that the accused man, for more than a decade, used his victims "in whatever self-gratifying, self-serving way he saw fit."

Mr. Castro is charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape for the abduction and assault of Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus, who were found Monday in Mr. Castro's home on Seymour Avenue, in the Tremont neighborhood on Cleveland's near west side.

A 6-year-old girl, believed to be Ms. Berry's daughter, was also found inside the house.

Kathleen DeMetz, a public defender who represented Mr. Castro in court, said he would be transferred from a city jail medical unit, where defendants charged with sex crimes or considered a suicide risk are normally held.

She said he probably would remain under suicide watch while at the county jail.

Mr. Castro did not have a chance to speak with his two brothers, who were arrested and cleared without charges, Ms. DeMetz said.

The brothers, Pedro and Onil, were originally thought to be suspects in the case, but officials have determined that the two had no knowledge of or involvement in the crimes.

The brothers also appeared for arraignment in court Thursday for unrelated misdemeanor charges.

Pedro Castro and Onil Castro were arraigned on one count each of having an open container; Onil Castro is also charged with drug abuse.

Pedro Castro, 54, pleaded no contest to the charge; the charges against Onil Castro, 50, were dismissed.

Among details in the police report obtained Thursday:

• Ms. Berry, now 27, told officers that she was forced to give birth in a plastic pool in the house, so it would be easier to clean up. Ms. Berry said neither she, nor her baby, now 6, nor the other two rescued women had ever been to a doctor during their captivity.

• Michelle Knight, now 32, said her five pregnancies ended after Mr. Castro starved her for at least two weeks and "repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried."

She also said Mr. Castro forced her to deliver Ms. Berry's baby under threat of her death if the infant were to die. Ms. Knight said that when the newborn stopped breathing, she revived her with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

• All three women said Mr. Castro initially kept them chained in the basement, but eventually let them live upstairs on the second floor. Each woman told a similar story about being abducted after accepting a ride from Mr. Castro.

During his brief arraignment Thursday, Mr. Castro tried to hide his face, tucking his chin inside his collar. He appeared to close his eyes during the hearing and awkwardly signed documents while handcuffed.

Mr. Castro has been under arrest since Monday, when Ms. Berry broke out of his house and called 911 while he was away. Police found the two other women inside.

The women had each vanished separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16, and 20 years old.

Ms. Berry and Ms. DeJesus, 22, went home with relatives Wednesday. Ms. Knight was reported in good condition at a Cleveland hospital.

The police report gave a detailed account of their escape, starting with Ms. Berry's discovery that a door was unlocked, leaving only a bolted outer door between her and freedom.

Ms. Berry feared that it might be a test: She said Mr. Castro occasionally left a door unlocked to test them. But she called to neighbors on a porch for help and was able to get out. Police then entered the house and found the other women, who threw themselves into the officers' arms.

Ariel Castro's former daughter-in-law, Monica Stephens, told the Associated Press that her former husband said Mr. Castro had an extremely violent nature.

"He was always described to me as a violent, just a scary violent person," Ms. Stephens said. "He [her former husband] talked about how his father had beaten him and his mother severely. They were like hostages in their own house. They were locked in," said the woman, who now lives in Florida.

A musician who often practiced at Mr. Castro's house said he was there last week and heard noises, "like banging on the wall." Ricky Sanchez said he asked Mr. Castro about it, but Mr. Castro blamed it on the dogs.

He also said Mr. Castro, a bass guitarist in merengue and salsa bands, liked to play his music loud.

On his most recent visit, Mr. Sanchez said, a little girl came out from the kitchen and stared at him but didn't say anything. He said he also noticed that there were four or five locks on the outside door.

"When I was about to leave, I tried to open the door. I couldn't even, because there were so many locks in there," he said.

In all the years that the women were held in Mr. Castro's home, they left the residence twice.

Police said the women wore disguises and went from the home to a garage on the property.

All three were aware of one another in the home, but were kept separately, officials said.

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First Published May 9, 2013 12:45 PM


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