Ariel Castro sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison for abduction of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight

Judge insists on consecutive sentences for hundreds of counts, including kidnapping, rape and assault

In an emotional conclusion to a horrifying case, Michelle Knight – one of three women abducted, imprisoned and abused in Ariel Castro’s Ohio home for more than a decade – faced her captor in court yesterday.

Castro, a former schoolbus driver, snatched Ms Knight from the streets of Cleveland’s west side in 2002, luring her with the promise of a puppy for her toddler son. Describing her ordeal, the 32-year-old said, “I spent 11 years in hell.” She told Castro: “Your hell is just beginning.”

Castro, who is 53, last week agreed to plead guilty to 937 charges, including aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping, thereby avoiding the death penalty. Under the terms of his plea deal, he will be sentenced to life in prison, plus 1,000 years, with no opportunity of parole. At the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Tim McGinty told the Cleveland court: “This man deserves as many years and as much punishment as this court can give him.”

Castro declared repeatedly that he was not a violent person, blaming his actions on a lifelong addiction to pornography. “I have an addiction, just like an alcoholic has an addiction,” he insisted. Shackled, unshaven and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, he said: “These people are trying to paint me as a monster and I’m not a monster. I’m sick.”

Contrary to the testimony of his victims – Ms Knight, 27-year-old Amanda Berry, and 23-year-old Gina DeJesus – Castro claimed that most of the sexual contact he had with the woman was consensual, and that they often asked him for sex. He also maintained that he had never beaten or tortured his victims, saying: “There was harmony in that home.” The six-year-old daughter he fathered with Ms Berry would, he suggested, consider him “the best dad in the world”. His voice cracking, Castro also apologised to his victims. “I am truly sorry for what happened,” he said.

Before the sentencing, it emerged that the three women had kept diaries documenting their ordeal. According to a sentencing memorandum, “The entries speak of forced sexual conduct, of being locked in a dark room, of anticipating the next session of abuse, of the dreams of someday escaping and being reunited with family, of being chained to a wall, of being held like a prisoner of war.” Ms Berry’s diary was addressed to her mother; when she learned that her mother had died during her captivity, she instead “wrote to her mother in heaven”.

Detective Andy Harasimchuk, the officer in charge of the case, said Castro abducted the three young women between 2002 and 2004, initially chaining them in his basement, where he would rape them, make them don a motorcycle helmet and then leave them overnight. All three were raped repeatedly during their captivity. Castro fed them one meal a day, and forced them to use plastic buckets as toilets, which he rarely emptied. During the hearing, a scale model and a selection of interior photographs of Castro’s house were shown. The house will shortly be demolished.

On 6 May this year, Ms Berry broke down part of the front door of Castro’s house and cried for help, attracting the attention of several neighbours. Barbara Johnson, the Cleveland police officer who reached the scene first, found Ms Knight and Ms DeJesus upstairs after hearing footsteps. Ms Knight “literally launched herself” into a fellow officer’s arms, Johnson told the court. “She just kept repeating, ‘You saved us! You saved us!’”

Dr Frank Ochberg, a professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, who assessed the women, told the court the effect of Castro’s crimes on his victims would last indefinitely. “The damage that was done does not go away,” he said. “They have life sentences.” In the memorandum Dr Ochberg reserved particular admiration for Ms Knight, whom he said had suffered “the longest and most severely”. She reportedly became pregnant five times by Castro, who would beat and starve her until she miscarried. Yet when Ms Berry gave birth, said Dr Ochberg, “It was Michelle who served as doctor, nurse, midwife and paediatrician.” He went on: “At other times, [Knight] interceded when Castro sought to abuse Gina, interposing herself and absorbing physical and sexual trauma.”

Ms Knight told the court that DeJesus had been her “teammate”. “She nursed me back to health when I was dying from [Castro’s] abuse,” she said. “We said we would someday make it out alive, and we did.” Ms Knight said she had been “overwhelmed by the amount of thoughts, love and prayers expressed by strangers. It is comforting. Life is tough, but I’m tougher!”

A victim speaks: Michelle Knight faces her tormentor

My name is Michelle Knight and I would like to tell you what the experience was like for me.

I missed my son every day. I wondered if I was ever going to see him again. He was only two-and-half years old when I was taken. I look inside my heart and I see my son. I cried every night. I was so alone. I worried about what would happen to me and the other girls every day.

Days never got shorter. Days turned into nights, nights turned into days. Years turned into eternity. I knew nobody cared about me. He told me that my family didn’t care. Christmas was more traumatic because I never got to spend it with my son. Nobody should ever have to go through what I went through. Not even my worst enemy.

Gina was my team mate. She never let me fall and I never let her fall. She nursed me back to health when I was dying from his abuse. My friendship with her is the only thing that was good out of this situation. We said we would someday make it out alive, and we did. Ariel Castro, I remember all the times you came talking about all the things people did wrong. And acted like you weren’t doing the same thing. You said: ‘At least I didn’t kill you.’ You took 11 years of my life away and now I have got it back. I spent 11 years in hell, now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all that has happened, but you will face hell for eternity.

From this moment on I will not let you define me, or affect who I am.

I will live on. You will die a little every day as you think about the 11 years in that trap space you inflicted on us.

What does God think about you going hypocritically to church, coming home to torture us? The death penalty will be so much easier. You don’t deserve that – you deserve life in prison.

I can forgive you, but I will never forget. With the guidance of God I will prevail and help others who have suffered.

Writing this statement gave me the strength to be a stronger woman and know that there is more good than evil.

I know that there is a lot of people going through hard times, but we need to reach out a hand and hold them and let them know they are being heard.

After 11 years I am finally being heard, and it’s liberating. Thank you all. I love you. God bless you.

Diaries of captivity

Diaries kept by the three young women held captive for a decade in Ariel Castro’s Ohio home helped prosecutors to describe their suffering, as detailed in a memo released ahead of their kidnapper’s sentencing hearing.

Entries in the diaries of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus described how the women were viciously beaten, repeatedly raped, and “treated like an animal”, according to prosecutors, who said they relied on the diaries for many of the 977 criminal charges lodged against Castro.

The women, who endured being chained to a wall and locked in dark rooms, had written of their fear “anticipating the next session of abuse”.

“Although he [Castro] admits his disgusting and inhuman conduct, the defendant remains remorseless for his actions,” Cuyahoga county prosecutor Timothy McGinty wrote in the sentencing memo.

Ms Knight was impregnated four times during the 11 years she was held captive. At least one of her pregnancies was terminated by Castro, who starved her for days before kicking her stomach.

In the diaries, the women also wrote of their “dreams of some day escaping and being reunited with family” and of “missing the lives they once enjoyed,” prosecutors said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'