The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

July 13, 2013

Hundreds of new charges filed in Cleveland kidnap case

CLEVELAND — Month after month, year after year, the decade-long ordeal of three Cleveland women takes shape in the charges against the man accused of imprisoning them: August 2002, kidnapping. October 2005, rape. November 2006, aggravated murder.

Christmas Day 2006, rape.

A new 977-count indictment filed Friday provides a numbing look at what prosecutors say was 10 years of captivity for the three women in suspect Ariel Castro’s home in a rough Cleveland neighborhood. Among the most serious charges: that he caused the death of one of his victims’ fetuses by punching and starving her.

Among the most haunting: that he assaulted the women throughout their captivity, causing psychological harm to them and to the daughter he fathered with one of them through assault. And in another newly unveiled accusation, the indictment also alleges that on the same day that the child was born, Christmas of 2006, Castro raped one of the other women, who had helped deliver the baby.

“Today’s indictment moves us closer to resolution of this gruesome case,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said in a statement.

Castro, 53, is accused of kidnapping the three women and holding them captive — sometimes restrained in chains — along with the 6-year-old girl he fathered. The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Each said they had accepted a ride from Castro, who remained friends with the family of one girl and even attended vigils over the years marking her disappearance.

He is charged with two counts of aggravated murder related to one act, saying he purposely caused the unlawful termination of the pregnancy of one of the women. The new indictment also charges him with 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, six counts of felonious assault, three counts of child endangerment and one count of possessing criminal tools.

Authorities say the filing covers the entire period that the women were imprisoned, from 2002 until May of this year, superseding an earlier indictment that listed accusations for only some of the years. The indictment does not include charges that could carry a death sentence, but McGinty said he is still reserving that option. Castro will be arraigned on the new charges Wednesday. He is scheduled for trial Aug. 5.

Castro pleaded not guilty to the earlier indictment of 329 counts. A message was left with his attorney Friday seeking comment on the new charges. His legal team has hinted Castro would plead guilty if the death penalty was off the table.

A communications firm representing the women said they would not comment. The women released a three-minute video this week thanking the community for its support.

News that the women had been found alive electrified the Cleveland area, where two of the victims were household names after years of searches, publicity and vigils. But elation soon turned to shock as allegations about their treatment began to emerge.

Castro is accused of repeatedly restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a bedroom heater, inside a van or to a pole in a basement — once with a motorcycle helmet over the head of one woman. Once, when one woman tried to escape, authorities say, he assaulted her with a vacuum cord around her neck.

Later, Castro moved them to upstairs rooms where they were kept as virtual prisoners, according to investigators.

All the while, Castro continued driving a school bus and playing bass in local bands, with fellow musicians saying they never suspected a thing. He was fired as a bus driver last fall after leaving his bus unattended for several hours.

The picture of Castro as a friendly musician began to erode soon after the women were freed, as family members told of a man who terrorized his common-law wife, beating her and locking her in an apartment and the same house where the women were later kept.

Castro was arrested May 6, shortly after one of the women broke through a door and yelled to neighbors for help.

One woman, Amanda 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. Berry said she, her baby and the two other women rescued with her — Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — had never been to a doctor during their captivity.

Knight, 32, said her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved her for at least two weeks and “repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried,” authorities said.

She also said Castro forced her to deliver Berry’s baby under threat of death if the baby died. She said that when the newborn stopped breathing, she revived her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Castro has been held on $8 million bail. Cuyahoga County jail logs show him spending most of his time sleeping, lying on his bunk, watching TV and occasionally drawing or exercising.

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