Death penalty considered in Ohio abductions

CLEVELAND — Prosecutors said Thursday they may seek the death penalty against Ariel Castro, the man accused of imprisoning three women at his home for a decade, as police charged that he impregnated one of his captives at least five times and made her miscarry by starving her and punching her in the belly.

The allegations were contained in a police report that also said another one of the women, Amanda Berry, was forced to give birth in a plastic kiddie pool.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said his office will decide whether to bring aggravated murder charges punishable by death in connection with the pregnancies that were terminated by force.

“Capital punishment must be reserved for those crimes that are truly the worst examples of human conduct,” he said. “The reality is we still have brutal criminals in our midst who have no respect for the rule of law or human life.”

Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, is being held on $8 million bail under a suicide watch in jail, where he is charged with rape and kidnapping.

McGinty said Castro will be charged for every act of sexual violence, assault and other crimes committed against the women, suggesting the counts could number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

Among the chilling details in the police report:

— Berry, now 27, told officers that she was forced to give birth in a plastic pool in the house so it would be easier to clean up. Berry said she, her baby, now 6, and the two other rescued women had never been to a doctor during their captivity.

— Michelle Knight, now 32, said her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved her for at least two weeks and “repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried.” She also said Castro forced her to deliver Berry’s baby under threat of death if the baby died. Knight said that when the newborn stopped breathing, she revived her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

— All three women said Castro chained them up in the basement but eventually let them live on the home’s second floor. Each woman told a similar story about being abducted after accepting a ride from Castro.

During his brief arraignment Thursday, Castro tried to hide his face, tucking his chin inside his shirt collar. He appeared to close his eyes during the hearing and awkwardly signed documents while handcuffed. He did not speak or enter a plea.

In court, prosecutor Brian Murphy said Castro used the women “in whatever self-gratifying, self-serving way he saw fit.”

Kathleen DeMetz, a public defender assigned to represent him at the hearing, didn’t comment on his guilt or innocence or object when prosecutors recommended bail be set at $5 million. The judge, instead, ordered Castro held on $8 million.

Castro was arrested Monday, when Berry broke out of his run-down house and called 911 while he was away. Police found the two other women inside. The women had vanished separately between 2002 and 2004, when they 14, 16 and 20.

Berry and former captive Gina DeJesus, 22, went home with relatives on Wednesday. Knight was reported in good condition at a Cleveland hospital.

The police report gave a detailed account of their escape, beginning with Berry’s discovery that a door was unlocked, leaving only a bolted outer door between her and freedom.

Berry feared it was a test: She said Castro occasionally left a door unlocked to test them. But she called to neighbors on a porch for help and was able to get out.

Police then entered the house and found the other women, who threw themselves into the officers’ arms.

Castro’s two brothers, who were arrested with him but later cleared of involvement in the case, appeared in court on unrelated charges Thursday and were released.

Years before the women’s abductions and abuse, Castro terrorized the mother of his children, beating her and locking her indoors, her relatives said in interviews Thursday with The Associated Press.

Relatives of Grimilda Figueroa, who left Castro many years ago and died after a long illness last year, described Castro as a “monster.” He once shoved her into a cardboard box and closed the flaps over her head, said Elida Caraballo, her sister.

“He told her, ‘You stay there until I tell you to get out,’” Caraballo said.

Monica Stephens, Castro’s former daughter-in-law, who now lives in Florida, met Castro’s son in 2002. They married in 2004 but split up in 2006. Stephens on Thursday recalled conversations with her ex-husband in which he said he and his mother were beaten by Castro.

“They were like hostages in their own house,” she said.

A musician who often practiced at Castro’s house said he was there last week and heard noises “like banging on the wall.” Ricky Sanchez said he asked Castro about it and Castro blamed it on dogs. He also said Castro, a bass guitarist in merengue and salsa bands, liked to play his music loud.

On his most recent visit, Sanchez said, a little girl came out from the kitchen and stared at him but didn’t say anything. He said he also noticed there were four or five locks on the outside door.

“When I was about to leave, I tried to open the door. I couldn’t even, because there were so many locks in there,” he said.

Dozens of area residents gathered Thursday night at a church half a block from the house where the women were found. They received briefings on ways to help the women and applauded the police for their handling of their disappearances.

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