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Ohio prosecutors may seek death penalty for Ariel Castro

© AFP

Video by Siobhán SILKE , Joseph TANDY , Marc EDWARDS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-10

Ohio prosecutors said on Thursday that they intend to seek aggravated murder charges, which could carry the death penalty, against Ariel Castro, the man suspected of kidnapping, imprisoning and sexually abusing three young women for nearly a decade.

Ohio prosecutors said on Thursday that they will seek aggravated murder charges against Ariel Castro, an ex-school bus driver from Cleveland suspected of kidnapping, imprisoning and sexually abusing three women for an almost 10 year period. If convicted, Castro could face the death penalty.

The aggravated murder charges would stem from the forced miscarriages that police say were suffered by one of the women at the hands of Castro, 52.

“The law of Ohio calls for the death penalty for those most depraved criminals who commit aggravated murder during the course of a kidnapping,” county prosecutor Timothy McGinty said at a news conference.

The city of Cleveland has already filed kidnapping and rape charges against the suspect, who appeared briefly in a municipal court earlier in the day. Castro did not enter a plea at the arraignment, where he stood with his head bowed as the court set his bail at $8 million, essentially guaranteeing that the suspect will be forced to remain in custody.

Castro’s court appearance came a day after two of his victims were given joyous homecomings by their loved ones, while the third remained in hospital. Meanwhile, authorities in Cleveland disclosed further details of the isolation and brutal treatment the women endured before they were freed earlier this week.

Ropes and chains

Officials said the three women were at times bound in chains or rope and endured starvation, beatings, sexual assaults and, in the case of one victim, several miscarriages deliberately induced by their captor.

Kidnap victim's 911 call

Their imprisonment came to an end on Monday after neighbours, drawn to the house by cries for help, broke through a door to rescue Amanda Berry, whose disappearance in 2003 on the eve of her 17th birthday was widely publicised in local media.

Rescued with Berry, now 27, was her 6-year-old daughter, conceived and born during her confinement, and two fellow captives – Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished at age 14 in 2004, and Michelle Knight, 32, who was 20 when she went missing in 2002.

Castro, who was fired from his job driving school buses last fall, was formally charged on Wednesday with kidnapping and raping the women.

His two brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, were initially arrested as suspects in the case but were not charged after investigators determined they had no knowledge of the abductions or captivity of the women, police said.

Forced miscarriages

However, the two brothers were also slated to appear in court on Thursday on unrelated outstanding misdemeanor warrants.

Berry told police that her escape on Monday marked her first chance to break free in the 10 years that she was imprisoned, an opportunity occasioned by Castro’s momentary absence.

It also became clear that Berry’s pregnancy with her daughter was not an isolated incident, according to Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins, who based his information on a police report from the initial investigation and briefing by police department sources.

Cummins said one of the three women – he did not know who – had suffered at least five miscarriages that Castro is accused of having caused by starving her for weeks and beating her in the abdomen.

Berry’s baby was born in a plastic inflatable kiddy pool on Christmas Day, 2006, authorities said. A paternity test will be conducted to determine the girl’s father.

All three women were held in the home’s basement for long periods, restrained with ropes and chains and occasionally starved, according to Cummins. Authorities have described the condition of the home as squalid.

Cummins said the victims were kept apart in the house until their captor at some point gained sufficient confidence in his control over them to allow them to interact. While separated in the house, the three women were isolated in different rooms but were aware of the others’ presence, police said.

Authorities said the women recalled leaving the confines of the house just twice during their captivity, ushered on both occasions into a separate garage on the small lot while disguised in wigs and hats.

The women also told police their abductions occurred when Castro offered them rides and they accepted, authorities said.

Cummins said much of their ordeal was recounted by the women as soon as they were freed.

“En route to the hospital there was just a flood of information shared by these victims immediately,” he said. “One can only imagine the mental distress and eruptions of joy and emotions.”

Joyful homecomings

On Wednesday, after spending a day in seclusion following their hospital evaluations, Berry and DeJesus were each glimpsed by television cameras being whisked to celebrations with family members – Berry and her daughter at her sister’s house and DeJesus at her mother’s home.

Neither Berry, who was last seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant, nor DeJesus, who vanished while walking home from school, spoke publicly.

But DeJesus, clenched in a tight embrace by her sister Mayra and hiding her face in a yellow hooded sweat-shirt, raised her hand in a thumbs-up sign to spectators chanting “Gina, Gina.”

Knight remained in a Cleveland hospital, where she was listed in good condition.

Neighbours believed that Castro, owner of the modest, two-story house, lived there alone.

Questions have mounted since the three women were freed as to how their captivity escaped notice for so long, despite what neighbours described as a number of suspicious incidents at the house, which is located in the low-income community of Cleveland’s West Side.

Investigators took some 200 pieces of evidence from his house but found no human remains on the site. Police were still searching a second house.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-09

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