July 17, 2013

Ohio kidnapping, rape suspect pleads not guilty

Ariel Castro, 53, has been jailed since his arrest on May 6 shortly after the three women he had allegedly held for a decade in his home escaped to freedom.

By Thomas J. Sheeran / The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland man accused of holding three women captive in his home for more than a decade pleaded not guilty Wednesday on an expanded indictment charging him with 512 counts of kidnapping and 446 counts of rape, among other crimes.

click image to enlarge

Ariel Castro, center, enters the court before a judge with his defense attorney's, Craig Weintraub, left, and Jaye Schlachet during a pretrial hearing on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Cleveland. A tentative Aug. 4 trial date has been set for Castro, accused of kidnapping three women and holding them in his home for about a decade.

AP

The charges returned Friday by a grand jury against Ariel Castro expanded on a 329-count indictment filed earlier that covered only part of the time frame of the alleged crimes. He previously pleaded not guilty to that indictment.

Castro, 53, has been jailed since his arrest on May 6 shortly after the women escaped to freedom. As in past court appearances, he kept his head down Wednesday, typically responding to a judge's questions with one-word answers.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Pamela Barker repeatedly told Castro to raise his head and keep his eyes open during the brief court appearance.

"Sir, please keep your eyes open so I make sure that you are listening to me and understanding what I'm saying, OK," the judge asked.

"I'm trying," said Castro, who in past court appearances has kept his head down and his chin tucked on his chest.

The judge continued his bond at $8 million.

Besides kidnapping and rape, the new 977-count indictment also charges him with seven counts of gross sexual imposition, six counts of felonious assault, three counts of child endangerment and one count of possessing criminal tools.

He previous was charged with two counts of aggravated murder related to one act, charges alleging that he purposely caused the unlawful termination of the pregnancy of one of the women.

The women appeared in a YouTube video last week to thank people who donated to a fund created to benefit them. They otherwise have sought to stay out of sight and have appealed for privacy.

Castro is scheduled for trial on Aug. 5, a date that could be delayed if the defense requests more preparation time. His legal team has hinted Castro would plead guilty if the death penalty was off the table.

Defense attorney Craig Weintraub said after the arraignment that he didn't expect a trial postponement.

"We have a trial date of Aug. 5, so either we're going to have a plea or we're going to trial Aug. 5," he said.

The prosecution has said it would be ready for that date.

Castro is accused of repeatedly restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. The charges say one of the women tried to escape and he assaulted her with a vacuum cord around her neck.

Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus and Michelle Knight 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 Dejesus' family and even attended vigils over the years marking her disappearance.

Berry has a 6-year-old daughter fathered by Castro, authorities said.

The Associated Press does not usually identify people who may be victims of sexual assault, but the names of the three women were widely circulated by their families, friends and law enforcement authorities for years during their disappearances and after they were found.

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