Ariel Castro faces 329 charges including murder, kidnap and rape in Cleveland missing women case

 

A man accused of holding three women captive in his run-down home in Cleveland for a decade and fathering a child with one of them has been indicted on 329 charges including murder, kidnapping and rape, prosecutors said.

A grand jury returned the indictment on Friday against Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver fired last fall.

Castro, 52, is accused of kidnapping Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight and holding them captive along with a 6-year-old girl he fathered with Berry.

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. Castro 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.

Prosecutor Tim McGinty said the indictment covers only the period from August 2002, when the first of the women disappeared, to February 2007.

The indictment refers to the women as Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 and gives a glimpse into the circumstances of their captivity.

The aggravated murder counts stem from the unlawful termination of Jane Doe 1's pregnancy in late 2006 or early 2007, the indictment says.

It says Castro 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.

Castro's attorneys have said he would plead not guilty to any indictment. Castro, during a brief court appearance last month, tried to hide his face, tucking his chin inside his shirt collar, and did not speak.

Castro is being held on $8 million (£5.2 million) bail. He has been taken off suicide prevention watch, jail officials said this week. He has told jail guards he won't accept news media interview requests.

Messages left for his attorneys after business hours on Friday weren't immediately returned.

Castro was arrested May 6, shortly after Berry broke through a door at the home, yelled to neighbours for help and frantically told a police dispatcher by phone: "Help me. I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years, and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."
Berry, 27, told officers that she was forced to give birth in a plastic pool in the house so it would be easier to clean up. Berry said she, her baby and the two other women rescued with her had never been to a doctor during their captivity.

Knight, 32, said her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved her for at least two weeks and "repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried," authorities said.

The women had gone missing separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. They haven't spoken publicly since their rescue.

Castro will be arraigned on the charges next week, and a trial judge will then be assigned.

The investigation continues, said McGinty, the prosecutor. When the indictment process is completed, the county prosecutor's capital review committee will weigh whether the case is appropriate for seeking the death penalty.

Days after the women were rescued from Castro's home, McGinty had said at a news conference that capital punishment "must be reserved for those crimes that are truly the worst examples of human conduct."

"The law of Ohio calls for the death penalty for those most depraved criminals, who commit aggravated murder during the course of a kidnapping," he added.

Attorneys for the three women said on Friday they were letting the judicial process unfold in the case.

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.

AP

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