Ariel Castro Pleads Guilty to Avoid Death Penalty

Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped three young women in as many years, holding them captive for a decade, has pleaded guilty to 977 criminal counts in as part of a plea agreement that will remove the death penalty as a sentencing option. Instead, Castro will be sentenced to life plus one thousand years in prison. Castro was indicted on hundreds of counts including kidnapping, rape, assault, and two counts of aggravated murder. The aggravated murder charges, which are the crimes that made the death penalty a consideration in the case, stem from forced miscarriages after Castro beat and starved victim Michelle Knight in order to end her pregnancies. Knight says she miscarried five times as a result of Castro's abuse. Victim Amanda Berry also became pregnant after being raped by Castro, and Knight says she was forced under threat of death to deliver Berry's child alive. Berry's daughter was born on Christmas 2006. Gina DeJesus, another kidnapping victim, says that she does not believe she ever became pregnant. Prosecutor Tim McGinty of Cuyahoga County decided to seek the death penalty against Ariel Castro after learning of the forced miscarriages. In Ohio, unlawful termination of a pregnancy is grounds for an aggravated murder charge, and aggravated murder is a capital offense. While legal analysts debated whether or not it would be possible to prove that McGinty's actions caused the miscarriages and thus prove aggravated murder, his decision to seek the death penalty has seemed to pan out as a bargaining chip. Ariel Castro initially pleaded not guilty to the 977 counts against him, and he was scheduled for trial beginning August 5. However, he agreed to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty and will instead spend the rest of his life in prison. For the victims, this plea spares them the emotional turmoil of a trial, in which they would likely be required to testify and relive their trauma before the court. A USA Today report says that the women, who have continued to request their privacy after escaping Castro's clutches, are relieved that their captor's guilty plea will eliminate the need to testify. A statement released by the law firm representing Knight, Berry, and DeJesus says that the women are "satisfied by this resolution to the case, and are looking forward to having these legal proceedings draw to a final close in the near future." With their captor securely behind bars for the rest of his life, the women may begin to heal without the fear of having to relive their horror before the court. In a video statement the three victims released on YouTube, Michelle Knight says, "I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and my head held high. I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don't want to be consumed by hatred." Perhaps with this chapter of their lives closed, the young women can heal and move forward.