Ohio abductions: Ariel Castro pleads not guilty to 329 charges including murder, kidnap and rape in Cleveland missing women case

Former school bus driver appeared in court in Cleveland

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The Independent US

Ariel Castro, the man accused of imprisoning three women at his Cleveland, Ohio home for a decade has pleaded not guilty to 329 charges, including kidnap, rape, torture and murder.

The 52-year-old suspect, who was last week taken off suicide prevention watch, stared only at the floor during the hearing on Wednesday, which lasted around one minute. Castro is currently being held in the Cuyahoga County jail on $8m (£5m) bail, and faces a possible death penalty if convicted.

The 142-page indictment describes Castro, an amateur musician and former school bus driver, as a “sexually violent predator”. The charges include 139 counts of rape and 177 charges of kidnapping during the period from August 2002, when he allegedly kidnapped his first captive, to February 2007. Castro also faces two counts of aggravated murder for allegedly terminating one of his victims' pregnancies. Michelle Knight, 32, told police she had become pregnant five times by Castro, who would punch her repeatedly in the stomach until she miscarried.

The case became international news on 6 May, when 27-year-old Amanda Berry escaped from Castro's house in west Cleveland and called police, alerting them to the other two victims imprisoned at the same address. Berry had been held captive since 21 April, 2003, the day before her 17th birthday. She gave birth to a daughter during that time; the girl is now six years old. Another of the women, Gina DeJesus, 21, had disappeared in April 2004. Knight, who is now 32, disappeared first, on 22 August, 2002.

The indictment alleges that Castro would restrain the women by chaining them to a pole in the basement or to a bedroom heater. When one of the women tried to escape previously, he had assaulted her with a vacuum cleaner cord around her neck.