Cleveland Kidnapper Sentenced To Life Plus 1,000 Years
By Scott Neuman
Michelle Knight, who was raped and tortured during more than a decade of captivity, faced her abuser, Ariel Castro, in court on Thursday, assuring him that while her hell was over, his had just begun.
"I spent 11 years in hell; now your hell is just beginning," she said, addressing Castro, who admitted to abducting Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, and subjecting them to years of sexual and emotional abuse in his Cleveland home.
"I will overcome all this that happened," Knight said. "I will live on; you will die a little every day."
Castro apologized to the three women he had held in captivity for more than a decade, but blamed his actions on his own history of sexual abuse and an addiction to pornography.
"People are trying to paint me as a monster, and I'm not a monster. I am sick," he said.
Judge Michael Russo, of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, sentenced Castro to life without parole, saying he was a danger to the public who thought of himself as the victim.
Knight, 32, said she cried herself to sleep and missed her son, who was 2 1/2 years old at the time of her kidnapping in 2002.
Family members made statements on behalf of DeJesus and Berry. DeJesus' cousin Sylvia Colon turned to the defendant at the end of her statement, saying in Spanish: "To Ariel Castro: May God take pity on his soul. Thank you."
After Knight spoke, Castro, 53, addressed the court.
Beth Serrano broke down in tears as she spoke of giving up her sister, Amanda Berry, for dead and that their mother "died without knowing" that Berry was still alive.
Castro, breaking into tears occasionally, said of the allegations of rape: "Practically all of [the sex] was consensual."
"There were times when they asked me for sex," he said, adding "many times."
"I didn't prey on them; I just acted on my sexual urges," he said.
"Finally, I want to apologize to the victims," Castro said. "I am truly sorry for what happened."
In preparation for his final judgement before God, he said, he was "reading my Bible and praying."
With the sentence essentially a forgone conclusion, the defense and prosecution sparred over how many of the lurid details of the rape and abuse of Berry, DeJesus and Knight would be rehashed in court.
Attorneys for the state sought to pile on evidence to back the 977-count indictment against Castro — using photos and even a model of the defendant's house — in an effort to make the case appeal-proof. Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder.
The defense objected to the prosecution's display. Attorney Craig Weintraub acknowledged that much of Castro's crime was "incomprehensible" but said it was more important to "protect the dignity and privacy of these three women."
The judge said he would allow only what was "necessary under the law to make a proper sentencing."
In other testimony:
Police officer Barb Johnson, one of the first responders at the scene when the three women were freed May 6, described how Knight "launched herself" into the arms of a fellow officer, crying, "You saved us, you saved us!" She said DeJesus "jumped into my arms" from a dark hallway in the house. The officer said she recognized the victim from missing persons photos, but that DeJesus was obviously now a mature young woman and "a lot thinner and paler."
Detective Andy Harasimchuk of the Cleveland Police Department Sex Crimes Unit said it was clear that all three women had been chained or otherwise restrained for long periods of time.
Cleveland FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke, who examined the crime scene in depth, said it was "surreal and difficult" for him even after years of field experience.