Murder charges possible in Ohio kidnapping case
Already in jail on kidnapping and rape charges, accused of holding women for the better part of a decade, Ariel Castro may also face charges of murder in the termination of his captives’ pregnancies, a prosecutor said.
Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Prosecutor Timothy McGinty cited Ohio law that states a person can be charged with aggravated murder for killing unborn children. A conviction on such charges could lead to the death penalty.
According to an initial incident report obtained by CNN, one of the women held said she became pregnant at least five times while in Castro’s 1,400-square-foot home. When that happened, Michelle Knight told investigators, Castro “starved her for at least 2 weeks, then he repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried.”
It is not known how many times, if any, the other two women got pregnant only to miscarry. One of them, Amanda Berry, gave birth to a daughter while in captivity.
In addition to aggravated murder, McGinty vowed to seek charges “for each and every act of sexual violence, rape, each day of kidnapping, every felonious assault (and) all his attempted murders.”
“The child kidnapper operated a torture chamber and private prison in the heart of the city,” the prosecutor told reporters Thursday. “The horrific brutality and torture that the victims endured for a decade is beyond comprehension.”
Earlier in the day, a handcuffed 52-year-old Castro looked down silently as he was arraigned in a northern Ohio court on four counts of kidnapping and three of rape.
“The charges against Mr. Castro are based on premeditated, deliberate and depraved decisions to snatch three young ladies from Cleveland’s West Side streets to be used in whatever self-gratifying, self-serving way he saw fit,” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brian Murphy said in court.
Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Lauren Moore ordered Castro held on $8 million bond — $2 million for each of the three women and the child born to Berry before they were freed Monday evening.
Castro — who is receiving unemployment benefits, according to his attorney — would have to put up $800,000 in cash plus some sort of property of comparable value to the bonding company as collateral, said Charles Eddie Miller, president of the Ohio Bail Agents Association. Ohio allows bail on any charge except capital murder.
Two of his brothers were in the same courtroom Thursday, facing unrelated misdemeanor charges before their release. Authorities initially arrested Pedro and Onil Castro in connection with the case, but none of the abducted women implicated them and they weren’t charged.
In fact, while they are working “meticulously” to see if others had any involvement, authorities so far believe Ariel Castro acted alone.
“I have a sick son who has done something serious,” his mother said briefly to Univision and Telemundo. “I’m suffering very much. I ask for forgiveness from those mothers; may those girls forgive me.”
Source: Writings detail actions, reasons behind them
So what was going through the suspect’s mind, when he allegedly lured three women into a car between 2002 and 2004, took them to his home three miles away, and held them — chaining, threatening and repeatedly sexually assaulting them?
Neither Castro, his attorneys nor police have spelled out a motive publicly.
The suspect has talked with investigators, though, confessing to some of the actions he’s accused of, said a law enforcement source closely involved with the investigation. The source did not describe precisely what Castro confessed to when he was interrogated.
Plus, investigators are poring over evidence. Among the more than 200 items seized from Castro’s Seymour Avenue home are writings that they believe the suspect wrote, said two law enforcement sources closely involved in the case.
Those writings contain “specific detailing of actions and reasons behind actions” associated with the abduction of three women and their kidnapper’s behavior toward them, one of the law enforcement sources said. The source — who described the “pretty lengthy” writings as “more of a diary” — said while the writings included talk of suicide, that was just one aspect.
Furthermore, the suspect’s own history of abuse was cited as justification for his actions.
Ariel Castro’s own family, meanwhile, is trying to make sense of the ordeal, with a daughter questioning how she didn’t see the signs.
Angie Gregg, who said she “just wanted to die” upon hearing her father had been implicated, recalled to CNN how her father “kept his house locked down so tight” and would sometimes leave mysteriously for an hour or so, then return, with “no explanation.”
“Everything’s making sense now,” Gregg said. “It’s all adding up, and I’m just disgusted.”
Source: Captive threatened if another woman’s baby died
While more details continue to emerge, those out so far describe a living hell for the abducted women.
According to the initial incident report, the women said that Castro first chained them in the basement but later freed them from the chains and allowed them to live upstairs on the second floor.
They went outside only twice during their ordeal — and just “briefly” at that, Cleveland Public Safety Director Martin Flask said.
Most of the time the three would be in different rooms, though they interacted occasionally and came to “rely on each other for survival,” said a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation.
One thing they could count on was that their alleged captor would never let them out.
Castro would often test the young women by pretending to leave, the law enforcement source said. Then he’d suddenly return; if there were indications any of the women had moved, they’d be disciplined.
While Knight said Castro forced her to miscarry her own unborn children, she told investigators that he ordered her to deliver Berry’s child, according to a police source familiar with the investigation.
The baby was delivered in a plastic tub or pool in order to contain the afterbirth and amniotic fluid, the source said.
But soon after Berry’s baby was born, panic ensued. The child stopped breathing, and everyone started screaming, the source said, citing accounts by the young women.
Knight said Castro threatened to kill her if the baby did not survive, the initial police report states.
“What’s most incredible here is that this girl who knows nothing about childbirth was able to deliver a baby that is now a healthy 6-year-old,” the source said.
On Thursday, Ohio Attorney General’s office spokesman Dan Tierney said that the FBI and Cleveland police have asked the state crime lab to expedite DNA tests on Berry’s child — which typically take 20 days, but should be back by Friday — to determine if Castro is the father.
‘I don’t think she would have lived very much longer’
Knight remained hospitalized in good condition Thursday, said MetroHealth Medical Center spokeswoman Tina Shaerban-Arundel.
The other women held — Berry, her 6-year-old daughter and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus — are back with relatives.
FBI specialists who talked with them say they “desperately need space and time,” said McGinty. In addition to pleading for the media and public to give them privacy, he said investigators are not rushing to interview them more extensively.
“These victims need to be decompressed,” he said. “They need a chance to heal before we seek further in-depth evidence from them.”
Those close to them, as well as the residents of Cleveland and beyond, are trying to make sense of the alleged depravity.
One of them is Arlene Castro, the suspect’s daughter and once a very good friend of DeJesus. In fact, she was interviewed on an “America’s Most Wanted” segment in 2005 talking about how she’d been with DeJesus, hoping to spend the afternoon with her, shortly before her abduction.
Speaking Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” she said that she last spoke with her father late last month, adding the two had never been close. Whatever their relationship, she insisted, “I had no idea” what was happening.
“I’m really disappointed, embarrassed, mainly devastated,” Arlene Castro said. “… I would like to say that I’m absolutely so, so sorry.”
Fern Gentry said on CNN’s “Starting Point” Thursday that hearing Berry, her granddaughter, was alive 10 years after her disappearance was the “most important thing that ever happened in my life.”
Gentry, who spoke to Berry by phone from her Tennessee home Tuesday, said she’s grateful for all involved in the case — from police to helpful neighbors — and that her granddaughter can now live her life.
“If she hadn’t got out, I don’t think she would have lived very much longer,” Gentry said.
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