Powerful remarks and victim impact statements delivered at the formal sentencing hearing for admitted kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro.
Castro will serve life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years. He was also ordered to have no contact with the victims, including his young daughter.
Castro pleaded guilty to 937 charges, including rape, kidnapping and assault. The plea deal is in exchange for no death penalty for the aggravated murder charge, stemming from a forced miscarriage.
Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus were held captive and sexually abused in Castro's Seymour Avenue house for years before they were rescued on May 6. Berry gave birth to his daughter while in captivity.
"I'm a very emotional person, so I'm going to try and get it out," Castro said when he was allowed to address the court. "I'm not a monster. I'm sick."
He then likened himself to that of an alcoholic who cannot control an addiction.
Castro said he never planned in advance to pick up Knight, his first victim. "I'm not a violent person," he insisted.
"I just don't realize that what I am doing is wrong," he continued. "I am not trying to make excuses. I am a happy person inside."
"The true judgment day comes when God comes to judge me," Castro stated. "All I did was keep them (victims) there and not allow them to leave."
He turned to Knight, who was sitting in the courtroom, "A lot of harmony went on in that home."
Castro also claimed the women would ask him for sex, and said they had multiple partners before he kidnapped them.
In the end, he apologized to the victims "I am truly sorry for what happened." He said he hopes the women can find it in their hearts to forgive them.
As the judge imposed Castro's formal sentence, Castro interrupted.
"I never killed anyone, I am not a murderer," he said defiantly in regards to the aggravated murder charge for the terminated pregnancy.
"You don't deserve to be out in our community," Judge Russo told Castro. "You are too dangerous."
Moments before Castro spoke, Knight bravely addressed her captor and delivered a heart wrenching victim impact statement. Through tears, Knight said she missed her son terribly while she was held in captivity for over a decade.
"I missed my son everyday, wondering if I would ever see him again," Knight said as tears ran down her face. "I was so alone. Days turned into nights and nights turned into an eternity."
Knight said Castro told her that no one cared about her. Christmas, Knight said, was the most traumatic day.
"I spent 11 years in hell," Knight said to Castro. "Your hell is just beginning."
"I will not let you define me," she added. " I will live on and you will die a little bit everyday. I can forgive you, but I will never forget."
Sylvia Colon, a spokesperson for the DeJesus family and Gina's cousin, delivered a statement on the family's behalf.
"Gina is not a victim, she is a survivor," Colon said. "She laughs, cries, swims and dances. She loves and is loved."
Colon then turned to Castro and addressed him in Spanish. "May God have mercy on your soul."
Berry's sister, Beth, delivered a statement on behalf of Amanda. Choking back tears, Beth said Amanda is doing better everyday. She said Amanda would prefer that no one talk about the case, she wants to shield her daughter from the stigma.
At the start of the hearing, Castro's lawyers had objected to anything other than victim statements being heard. Prosecutors plan much more than that, including presenting evidence and a model of Castro's home. Defense attorneys call prosecutors' plans "a spectacle."
Prosecutors disputed the defense's claims, and said the evidence is necessary to support Castro's sentence.
The judge ultimately agreed.
The first witness to take the stand was Cleveland Police Officer Barb Johnson. She was one of the first responders on the scene on May 6. Officer Johnson delivered a compelling account of that day. She said Castro's house was very dark and had heavy curtains. She spotted Michelle Knight on the top of the steps. She said "you saved us." Gina DeJesus was reluctant to leave her room.
Officer Johnson said the three women immediately gave details of the birth of Berry's daughter in 2006 and starvation and abuse of Knight so she would miscarry.
Metro ER Dr. Gerald Maloney was next on the stand. He said when the women were brought to the hospital, they were happy, but distraught. After her initial exam, Knight wanted to be examined by female physicians only.
"Michelle had several bruises. They told us they were forcibly raped," Dr. Maloney said.
Det. Andy Harasimchuk CPD Sex Crimes Unit was next to take to the stand for the state. He said Knight was physically, emotionally and sexually abused during her entire time in captivity. Knight said that on the day she was kidnapped, she was restrained with plastic ties, chains and was forced to wear a motorcycle helmet while in his basement. She was then sexually assaulted.
On the day Berry was kidnapped, she accepted a ride from Castro on her way home from her job at Burger King. She said she knew Castro's daughter, and accepted the ride. Castro told Berry his daughter was inside his house taking a shower, and invited her inside his Seymour Avenue home. Berry accepted, but once inside, she wanted to leave and tried to run out of the house. She became disoriented and ran into a closet instead. Castro then restrained and raped her.
According to Det. Harasimchuk, DeJesus, then 14, also accepted a ride from Castro on the day she was kidnapped because she knew his daughter. Once inside Castro's home, she, too was immediately restrained and raped.
The detective said Ariel Castro, and Ariel Castro alone, is responsible for the crimes. "The evidence shows Ariel Castro acted alone."
Joshua Barr, BCI Agent, next took the stand to display a .357 magnum handgun found in Castro's home. He also said 99 feet of chains used to restrain the women were taken from the house as evidence. The judge ordered these chains to not be shown in court.
FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke was next on the stand. "There were more than a 1,000 photos taken from inside the house."
Pictures from inside the home show chains used to restrain the women, as well as the rooms where the women spent a majority of their time. The windows were boarded up, and heavy curtains were hung in an effort to hide the staircase leading upstairs.
A picture of a motorcycle helmet and wig Castro forced the women to wear were also shown, as well as a picture of a cluttered basement were the women were held captive. It was revealed Castro kept cash inside his dryer.
Agent Burke described the scene inside the home as surreal.
Prosecutors tell 19 Action News Castro asked them during the hearing, "Why do you have to tear down my house? I have so many beautiful memories there with Amanda."
Castro had little reaction to testimony that was delivered on Thursday morning. Dr. Gregory Saathoff, a psychiatrist, says Castro fooled himself into thinking the baby he had from raping Berry was a love child. He believes his daughter had a normal life for six years and would say he is the best dad in the world.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson released the following statement following the hearing:
Today, justice was served for these three brave young women. They are survivors. I hope the sentencing of their captor brings them and their families the closure they need to continue moving forward and healing. I continue to ask the community to respect the privacy of these women as they move forward with their recovery.
The Ariel Castro proceedings are over, and now that justice has been served for the three brave survivors, the City of Cleveland and its officials are declining interview requests related to this case. This decision is in keeping with the victims' requests for privacy. It is our hope that they and their families will continue to move forward and continue the healing process that began on May 6. We encourage the entire community to respect the privacy of these women as they move forward with their recovery.
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