By Erin McClam
CLEVELAND -- Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man accused of imprisoning and torturing three women for a decade, agreed Friday to plead guilty and serve life without parole — sparing the city an agonizing trial and perhaps the women from reliving their nightmare on the witness stand.
Under a plea agreement outlined in court, Castro agreed to a life sentence plus 1,000 years. The deal allows him to avoid the death penalty and forestalls a trial that was scheduled to start in two weeks.
“I knew I was going to get pretty much the book thrown at me,” Castro told Judge Michael J. Russo of Cuyahoga County court in Ohio. Asked whether he knew that he was forfeiting any hope of getting out of prison before he dies, Castro said: “I don’t think there’s any reason.”
Castro, 53, was accused of abducting the women from the Cleveland streets between 2002 and 2004, then holding them in his home for a decade. Investigators say he raped and impregnated them and sometimes chained them in the basement. Castro fathered a daughter, now 6, with Berry, authorities have said.
Under the plea deal, Castro must also forfeit the modest home that prosecutors said he turned into a horror house. Prosecutors said the county planned to tear it down soon. Castro will be formally sentenced later at a hearing in which the three women will have the chance to address him.
The three — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — escaped in May after Berry broke partway through a door and screamed for help while Castro was out of the house. Lawyers for the women say they simply want the matter behind them.
Castro faced 977 criminal counts, including attempted murder, a charge brought by Ohio prosecutors after one of the women told investigators that Castro forced her to miscarry by punching her in the stomach.
He had pleaded not guilty July 17 at a hearing in which the judge had to ask him to keep his eyes open. Prosecutors said they were considering the death penalty but never announced a decision.
The women broke their silence in a three-minute video July 9. In it, Knight said: “I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground.”
Castro, who has been held on $8 million bail, appeared in an orange prison suit for the hearing Friday. He also wore glasses in court for the first time, and told the judge they helped.
Castro and Russo, the judge, engaged in a lengthy question-and-answer designed to make sure Castro understood the plea agreement. When Russo asked him about a criminal count that classified him as a sexually violent predator, he answered: “The violent part I don’t agree with, but yes.”