Ariel Castro pleads not guilty to hundreds of charges, including rape and kidnapping in Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A MAN ACCUSED of holding three women captive in his home for about a decade pleaded not guilty today, and the defence team hinted that it would like to avoid trial with a plea agreement if the death penalty was ruled out.
Attorney Craig Weintraub addressed the death penalty issue after his client, 52-year-old Ariel Castro, pleaded not guilty to hundreds of charges including rape and kidnapping.
Castro, dressed in an orange jail outfit with his hands and ankles shackled and a full dark beard grown in jail, kept his chin tucked on his chest through the brief court appearance. He didn’t speak or glance at his two attorneys standing by his side.
The 329-count indictment returned Friday covered only the period from August 2002, when the first of the women disappeared, to February 2007. More charges could be filed.
Ariel Castro stands before a judge during his arraignment. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A statement issued on behalf of the women said days like the arraignment “are not easy” and added: “We are hopeful for a just and prompt resolution. We have great faith in the prosecutor’s office and the court.”
The grand jury charged Castro with two counts of aggravated murder related to one act, saying he purposely caused the unlawful termination of one of the women’s pregnancies. He also was indicted on 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.
News that the women had been found alive electrified the Cleveland area, where two of the victims were household names after years of searches, publicity and vigils. But elation soon turned to shock as allegations about their treatment began to emerge.
The indictment alleges Castro repeatedly restrained the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. It says one of the women tried to escape and he assaulted her with a vacuum cord around her neck.
Law enforcement officers talk in front of the house where three women missing for about a decade. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
Later, he moved them to upstairs rooms where they were kept as virtual prisoners, according to investigators.
All the while, Castro continued driving a school bus and playing bass in local bands, with fellow musicians saying they never suspected a thing.
Castro has been held on $8 million bail. Last week he was taken off suicide prevention watch in jail. Cuyahoga County jail logs show him spending most of his time sleeping, lying on his bunk, watching TV and occasionally drawing.
Castro was arrested May 6, shortly after one of the women broke through a door and yelled to neighbors for help.
The women — 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.
The women haven’t spoken publicly since their rescue.