By Dana Ford and Michael Martinez, CNN
An Ohio man accused of murder, rape and holding three women in a Cleveland house against their will pleaded not guilty on Wednesday.
Lawyers at an arraignment for Ariel Castro, 52, made the plea on their client’s behalf at his arraignment in a Cleveland courtroom after he was indicted last week on 329 counts.
His case has attracted national attention because of the unusual length and depravity of the alleged crimes.
“The horrific brutality and torture that the victims endured for a decade is beyond comprehension,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty.
Two counts accuse Castro of aggravated murder for purposely causing the unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
One of the young women he’s accused of holding was impregnated five times by Castro, and another bore a child fathered by him, according to police.
The indictment also charges Castro with 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious assault and one count of possession of criminal tools, McGinty said in a statement last week.
The charges cover only half of the 10 years the three women were held captive — from August 2002, when the first of the three disappeared off a Cleveland street, to February 2007.
The women were freed last month after one shouted for help while Castro was gone from his 1,400-square-foot home.
The prosecutor’s capital review committee will consider whether the case is appropriate for seeking the death penalty once the indictment process is complete, the prosecutor’s statement said.
Castro intended to plead not guilty, his attorneys told CNN affiliate WKYC in a recent exclusive interview.
“I know the media wants to jump to conclusions and all the people in the community want to say terrible things about the person who’s accused,” attorney Jaye Schlachet told the network.
“We are not even at the beginning of the process. If this was a marathon race, we’re not even at the starting line yet.”
The three woman held have been identified as Michelle Knight, abducted at age 21 in August 2002; Amanda Berry, kidnapped at age 16 in April 2003 and who has a 6-year-old daughter by Castro; and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, who was 14 when she disappeared in 2004.
Lawyers for the women expressed confidence and satisfaction after the indictment came down last week.
“We have a great legal system, plus confidence and faith in the prosecutor’s office and its decisions. Now, we need to stand back and let the judicial process unfold,” said attorneys Jim Wooley and Kathy Joseph.
In a ghoulish twist, DeJesus actually knew Ariel Castro, her family told CNN affiliate WOIO.
She was a good friend of Castro’s daughter, Arlene.
One year after DeJesus’ appearance, Arlene Castro publicly crusaded to find her friend’s kidnapper. She went on the national television program “America’s Most Wanted” to plead for help in finding her friend in spring 2005.
Ariel Castro attended at least two public vigils for the missing girls — while they were allegedly inside his home — relatives told WOIO.
Castro, a former school bus driver, remains in a Cleveland jail on $8 million bond.
He made a brief court appearance soon after his arrest.
Handcuffed and wearing a blue jumpsuit, he looked down through that hearing. Castro did not speak.
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