CLEVELAND — The man accused of keeping three women in captivity for about a decade will plead not guilty but it’s uncertain if he can receive a fair trial anywhere, a member of his defense team said Wednesday.
Craig Weintraub, a former prosecutor representing Ariel Castro, 52, on rape and kidnapping charges, said in an interview that the location of a trial is “always an issue when you have a case that has such fantastic notoriety.”
Castro’s defense team, including Weintraub colleague Jaye Schlachet, must decide at some point whether to ask to have any trial moved out of Cleveland, Weintraub said.
“Then that begs the question: ‘Well, where can he get a fair trial based on the circumstances?’ This is such a sensationalistic type case which has received international coverage.”
Castro, a former school bus driver, was arrested May 6 shortly after Amanda Berry kicked out part of a locked door of his house and yelled to neighbors to help her and call police.
Police quickly arrived and found Berry in the street holding a baby and then raced through the house, freeing Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The women were admitted to a hospital but have been released and have remained in seclusion appealing for privacy.
The three disappeared between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s, authorities said.
Castro has been jailed on $8 million bond.
Weintraub, interviewed in his law office in a skyscraper overlooking the county jail and courts building, said Castro is despondent in his bare-bones cell — but Weintraub thinks people believe he’s got it too good under the circumstances.
“His day consists of remaining 24 hours a day in a room that is probably 9 (feet) by 9 that contains a metal bed, a very thin mattress that is covered in plastic. It has a metal sink and what appears to be some sort of a mirror,” Weintraub said.
He declined to comment on a jail suicide watch for Castro or jail guard reports that Castro has been sitting in his cell naked. Weintraub said he would have been alerted if going naked reflected a medical issue.
Castro has made it clear that he loves his 6-year-old daughter born to Berry, Weintraub said.
“I know that that seems to be irrational from the public perception standpoint, but he does indeed love her and is concerned about her future,” Weintraub said.
He said the issue of custody hadn’t been mentioned in discussions with Castro.
The girl was born Christmas Day 2006, delivered by Knight in a kiddie pool so the cleanup would be easy, police say. Knight told police she was ordered by Castro under threat of death to deliver the baby live.
Weintraub said the defense hadn’t researched issues raised last week when Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said Castro could face aggravated murder charges, and a possible death sentence, related to allegations that he impregnated Knight and forced her to miscarry at least five times by starving her and punching her in the stomach repeatedly.
Weintraub said only that “everybody is entitled to their own opinion” when asked about Castro’s two brothers — arrested but quickly cleared of any involvement — calling him a “monster.”
Amid reports of threats against the defense team and arson threats against Castro’s house, Weintraub appealed for understanding that every criminal defendant is guaranteed an effective defense.
“It’s an unfortunate fact today that there are people that will align themselves with the mob mentality and we are — criminal defense attorneys are unique people,” he said.
“We’re in a position where we represent those that may be considered the most evil people in society. But the Constitution permits that and requires it. Otherwise it would be execution at the time of an allegation.”