Castro gets life plus 1,000 years as he cuts deal to avoid the chair

Victims ‘relieved’ after Cleveland kidnapper pleads guilty to 937 charges against him

Ariel Castro, the former Cleveland school bus driver arrested in May for kidnapping and holding three women at his suburban home for around a decade and repeatedly raping them, has accepted a plea deal condemning him to prison for life plus no less than a 1,000 years. He will not have the chance to apply for parole.

The agreement with prosecutors will spare Castro the prospect of the death penalty. The 53-year-old was apprehended after one of his victims, Amanda Berry, 27, escaped from his home along with the six-year-old daughter she had given birth to in captivity. DNA testing later confirmed that Castro was the father.

Ms Berry’s escape was followed by the discovery of 32-year-old Michelle Knight and 23-year-old Gina DeJesus inside the Castro home at 2207 Seymour Avenue. The three had gone missing between 2002 and 2004.

Today, Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including rape and kidnapping, out of a 977 count indictment. Wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit and spectacles, and with his beard overgrown, he said he understood that implications of the plea agreement. “Do you understand, Mr Castro, that by entering this plea, you will never be released from prison?” the presiding judge, Michael Russo, asked.

“I do understand that,” Castro replied. He said he knew that “I was going to get pretty much the book thrown at me.”

During the hearing, Castro attempted to elaborate on his background, saying: “My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind.” But he was interrupted by Judge Russo, who said he could speak during his sentencing hearing.

The plea deal means that the Castro’s victims will not have to face having to testify during what could have been a lengthy trial process.

In a statement, Kathryn Joseph, a lawyer for the victims, told ABC news that they were “relieved by today’s plea.”

She added: “They are satisfied by this resolution to the case, and are looking forward to having these legal proceedings draw to a final close in the near future.”

The victims will have the chance to speak at Castro’s sentencing hearing.

Under the deal, Castro will also give up rights to the house at 2207 Seymour, which will be turned over to a local agency for demolition.

The discovery of the three victims and the young girl inside the Castro home was met with horror across the country. Neighbours were shocked to discover that the three women, whose disappearances many had commemorated at local vigils over the years, had been held inside an ordinary looking home on an average street in what is seen as  a down-at-heel area of the mid-western city.