The Cleveland man accused of kidnapping three young women and sexually abusing them for a decade was ordered held Thursday on $8 million bond as details emerged about what prosecutors called “a horrifying ordeal” in which the women were repeatedly beaten and assaulted.
Ariel Castro, 52, kept his eyes lowered and his chin tucked inside his collar as dozens of cameras flashed during a brief hearing in Cleveland Municipal Court. Castro, a former school bus driver, is charged with kidnapping Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and a 6-year-old girl to whom Berry gave birth while being held captive. Authorities say Castro repeatedly raped the three women.
Judge Lauren Moore calculated bail at $2 million per victim, including the little girl. Court documents said Castro kidnapped the women by separately luring them into his car.
Officials said they may seek the death penalty in a case that has riveted — and repulsed — television viewers and social-media users around the nation. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said Castro may be charged with aggravated murder because he allegedly impregnated the women and then forced them to suffer miscarriages, meaning he terminated the pregnancies by force.
Ohio law, McGinty said at a news conference, calls for the death penalty for the “most depraved criminals who commit aggravated murder during the course of a kidnapping.”
The women and the little girl were rescued Monday night after Berry, now 27, hailed a neighbor while her captor was out, kicked in part of the front door with his help and frantically called 911. Castro, a local musician who was a familiar presence in his heavily Latino neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side, lived in and owned the ramshackle house on Seymour Avenue where the women were found.
At the court hearing, lawyers for Castro sought a lower bail, telling the judge that he was a longtime Cleveland resident with no felony convictions and limited financial resources, living off an unemployment check.
But Brian Murphy, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor, asked for bond of $5 million, saying Castro put the women through a “horrifying ordeal” that included the repeated sexual assaults and beatings, along with periods of being bound and restrained inside Castro’s home.
“They were never free to leave this residence,” Murphy said, calling the eight-room house “a prison for these three women.”
With Castro in bright-yellow handcuffs and the women reuniting with loved ones, he noted, the situation has been reversed.
A police report obtained by CNN and The New York Times revealed chilling details of the women’s prolonged captivity. The document said Knight told police that she had been impregnated several times during the ordeal but miscarried each time after Castro starved her for two weeks or more and then repeatedly punched her in the abdomen.
According to the report, which the news organizations said was filed by the officers who first responded to Castro’s house on Monday, the women told them that Berry delivered her baby inside the house in a plastic pool. At Castro’s direction, Knight helped with the birth. Court documents filed after the bail hearing on Thursday show that the child was born on Christmas Day in 2006.
Knight told the police that Castro threatened to kill her if the baby did not survive, the report said. At one point, the baby stopped breathing, and Knight resuscitated her by breathing into her mouth, it said.
Court documents said Castro lured Knight, Berry and DeJesus into his vehicle at various locations along Lorain Avenue, a main thoroughfare on Cleveland’s west side. Knight, now 32, disappeared in 2002, when she was 21 years old. Berry vanished in 2003, a day before her 17th birthday.
DeJesus, now 23, disappeared on April 2, 2004, while walking home from middle school. Although initial accounts said she was 14 when she vanished, the date of birth listed on court documents indicate that she was still 13. Her birthday is in July.
Castro did not enter a formal plea during the court hearing. A Cuyahoga County grand jury will hear evidence in coming days and weeks, and it could indict Castro on additional charges, including aggravated murder.
At the start of the hearing, Castro’s brothers, who had been arrested shortly after the women were freed Monday night, were arraigned on years-old misdemeanor charges. Authorities have said they don’t believe the brothers were involved in the kidnappings or rapes.
Pedro Castro, 54, was fined $100 and released from custody after pleading no contest to a 2011 open-container charge. The judge dismissed charges of drug abuse and having an open container that had been filed against Onil Castro, 50, more than a decade ago.