Cleveland abductions: ‘Today the situation has changed. Ariel Castro stands before you a captive. The women are free’ - bail set at $8m for man accused of kidnapping and imprisoning three women
Nikhil Kumar sees the man accused of imprisoning and abusing four women in his Cleveland home appear in court for the first time
Nikhil Kumar is The Independent's New York correspondent. He was formerly assistant editor on the foreign desk and has also done a variety of jobs on the city desk, where he wrote about markets, commodities and other business and economics topics.
Thursday 09 May 2013
Hands cuffed, his chin buried deep in the collar of his dark blue jumpsuit, Ariel Castro appeared in a Cleveland court where a judge set bail for the 52-year-old at $8m (£5.2m). Castro is charged with kidnapping and raping three women, and holding a young child captive during a decade in which he used his house as a prison.
Castro was brought before Judge Lauren Moore at Cleveland Municipal Court this morning after Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Ms Berry's six-year-old daughter, who was born in captivity, escaped from the suspect's home at 2207 Seymour Avenue.
Later, a county prosecutor, Tim McGinty, said he would consider pursuing the death penalty if "aggravated murder" was additionally involved. His comments suggested that investigators are seeking evidence of violence against the women while pregnant leading to miscarriages or worse.
"I fully intend to seek to charges on each and every act of sexual violence, rape, each day of kidnapping, every felonious assault, all these attempted murders, and each act of aggravated murder he committed by terminating pregnancies that the offender perpetuated against the hostages during this decade-long ordeal," he said.
The women were freed after neighbours heard Ms Berry's cries – Charles Ramsey, who lives across the street from Castro's house, helped her pull down a door and escape.
At the court appearance, Brian Murphy, also from the county prosecutor's office, explained the charges saying they were based on "premeditated, depraved and deliberate decisions to snatch three young ladies from Cleveland's west-side streets to be used in whatever self-gratifying [and] self-serving way he saw fit".
Mr Murphy continued: "While in captivity they withstood repeated beatings. They were bound and restrained and sexually assaulted, basically never free to leave this residence... That's a home that served as Mr Castro's residence, but his prison to these three women and eventually [the] child.
"Today, the situation has changed... Mr Castro stands before you captive, in captivity, a prisoner. The women are free, resuming their lives that were interrupted."
The proceedings lasted just a few minutes, during which time Judge Moore set Castro's bail at $2m for each of the cases against him – four counts of kidnapping connected to the women and the child, and three counts of rape connected to Ms Berry, Ms DeJesus and Ms Knight. The child, who was born on Christmas Day in 2006, was referred to in the court documents as simply "Jane Doe".
Ariel Castro, the former school bus driver and musician, was joined in court by his brothers – 54-year-old Pedro Castro and 50-year-old Onil Castro – who answered unrelated misdemeanour charges. As proceedings began the three short, squat men stood next to one another by the courtroom's slatted wall, an arrangement that recalled the police mugshots that have stared out from front pages across the world this week. None of the brothers uttered a word.
Pedro and Onil Castro had been taken into custody with their brother as investigators tried to piece together the astonishing sequence of events between the women going missing and being freed on Monday, but no evidence was found connecting them to the case. Pedro Castro pleaded no contest to a 2011 charge of drinking alcohol in the street and was fined $100, while Judge Moore dismissed a similar charge and one of drug abuse against Onil that dated back more than a decade.
After Ariel Castro's arraignment, the public defender assigned to him, Kathleen DeMetz, said he would be moved to a county jail. Castro, who has lived on Cleveland's west side for 39 years and was fired from his job last year, did not enter a formal plea. The case now moves to a county grand jury, that could indict him on additional charges.
Ms DeMetz said she understood that her client had been on suicide watch, and that she expected authorities to continue monitoring him in the same way while he was behind bars.
New allegations of the horrors of Seymour Avenue continued to emerge, 24 hours after Ms Berry, who went missing in 2003, and Ms DeJesus, who was abducted in 2004, returned to their families. An initial police report revealed that all the women were abducted when they accepted lifts from Castro near their homes.
It also describes how Ms Berry gave birth to her child in a plastic pool with Ms Knight acting as midwife. Castro allegedly threatened to kill her if the child didn't survive and at one point, Ms Knight had to resort to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when the newborn stopped breathing.
The report also states that Ms Knight told officers she became pregnant by Castro at least five times. On each occasion, he is alleged to have starved and beaten her to induce a miscarriage.
Contrary to accounts based on the testimony of neighbours, police have said that women never ventured beyond the property, only leaving the main house twice during their entire ordeal to go to the garage. Brian Cummins, a city councilman, briefed on the case, said each was held in a separate room but were aware of each other's presence. County records show that the two-storey property contains four bedrooms, a bathroom and a 760 sq ft basement. The garage is large enough for one car.
Investigators who searched the house in recent days are reported to have found a suicide note apparently written by Castro in which he speaks of a sex addiction and said he needed help. According to local television station WOIO, Castro's letter also puts part of the blame for the kidnappings on the victims for getting in the car with him.
Details of Castro's family background have also continued to come to light. In court filings made in 2005, he was accused of attacking his ex-wife Grimilda Figueroa, and frequently abducting his own daughters.
Ms Figueroa's former boyfriend, Fernando Colon, told the New York Post that Castro "kept her tied up in the basement". "He used to whip her with dog chains. She wasn't allowed to go out... He pretty much kept her locked up," he said.
Arlene Castro, the daughter of Ariel Castro and the last person to see Gina DeJesus before the 14-year-old was abducted nine years ago, broke down as she apologised to the women held captive in her father's house. In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America, Ms Castro said she was "disappointed, embarrassed [and] devastated" at her father's connection to the case, but said she had "no idea" what was going on at 2207 Seymour Avenue despite visiting the property last month.
"Me and my father were never really that close," she said. "Every time we would talk it would be just short conversations." Ms Castro, above, was a school friend of Gina DeJesus, and was with her when she called her mother on the day she vanished.
She said she had never met Amanda Berry's daughter or witnessed any of the violence Ariel Castro is accused of meting out on her mother, Grimilda Figueroa. Through tears, she added: "I really want to see you Gina. I want you to meet my kids. I'm so sorry for everything."
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