Cleveland Kidnapper Pleads Guilty, Avoiding Death Penalty

The Cleveland man accused of kidnapping three women and holding them captive in his home has pleaded guilty to hundreds of charges in exchange for dodging the possibility of the death penalty. Ariel Castro's plea means there won't be a trial and the city of Cleveland can try move beyond his gristly crimes.

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In Cleveland, there will be no trial for the man accused of kidnapping three women and holding them captive in his house for about a decade. Today, Ariel Castro pleaded guilty to more than 900 charges in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Here's Nick Castele from member station WCPN.

NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including hundreds of counts each of kidnapping and rape, and including aggravated murder. Those murder charges stem from allegations that Castro starved and beat one of the women until she miscarried a pregnancy. Prosecutors agreed to take the death penalty off the table as part of the plea deal.

Judge Michael Russo will still have to sign off on the sentence in a hearing next week. But today, he made sure Castro understood that under the plea, he's receiving a life sentence without parole, plus an additional 1,000 years in prison.

JUDGE MICHAEL RUSSO: Do you understand, Mr. Castro, that upon entering this plea, you will never be released from prison?

ARIEL CASTRO: I do understand that.

CASTELE: Castro told the judge several times that he didn't agree with charges labeling him a sexually violent predator, but that he'd plead guilty as part of the deal. Castro didn't explain why he kidnapped and abused the women, but did refer, in his words, to a sexual problem.

CASTRO: My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind.

CASTELE: He even began to explain that he had been abused as a child, but Judge Russo told him to save that for his sentencing hearing. County prosecutor Timothy McGinty celebrated Castro's plea because it will keep Castro behind bars until he dies.

TIMOTHY MCGINTY: He's never coming out except nailed in a box or an ashcan. He is not stepping out. He's going down broke, he's leaving his assets behind, and that's justice.

CASTELE: Ariel Castro kidnapped Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus at different times between 2002 and 2004. Berry and DeJesus were just in their teens. Berry gave birth to a daughter in 2006. All four remained in the home until they made a daring escape in May, with the help of neighbors who heard one of them screaming.

In an emailed statement, lawyers representing the three women said they and their families were satisfied with the plea. Defense attorneys had said they wanted to avoid a trial so that the women wouldn't have to relive their harrowing ordeal.

Twenty-two-year-old De'Andrea Harris(ph) recently moved into the Seymour Avenue neighborhood where Castro held the women. She's hoping that with this plea, the neighbors can now become closer.

DE'ANDREA HARRIS: More neighborhood meetings, more coming together to be as a group and work as a team instead of being everybody individual, quiet. Everybody should be able to work together, and everybody should heal together.

CASTELE: Not far away, Castro's house is boarded up and surrounded by a high chain-link fence. Now that it's no longer needed as evidence in a trial, the county plans to demolish it. For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland.

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