Does Ariel Castro’s death cheat his victims out of justice?

September 4, 2013

It doesn’t seem fair.

Ariel Castro, who kidnapped three young women in Cleveland and held them hostage for years while repeatedly raping and beating them, was found hanging in his Ohio prison cell Tuesday night, an apparent suicide.

 

(In just over 16 minutes, Ohio kidnapper Ariel Castro blamed the FBI, the victims and a sex addiction for his crimes. Video courtesy WKYC)

“I spent 11 years in hell,” Michelle Knight, one of his victims, said at Castro’s sentencing hearing this summer. “Now your hell is just beginning.”

But Castro’s “hell” in prison didn’t last long: He was sentenced Aug. 1 to life with no chance of parole plus 1,000 years for pleading guilty to 937 felony counts that included kidnapping and rape.

Knight’s strong spirit was obvious as she said to him that day of the sentencing hearing: “I will live on; you will die a little every day.”

But in a way, Castro managed to escape. At 53 years of age, Castro could have been expected to spend at least a couple of decades in prison — plenty of time to think about his crimes. He’d been placed in protective custody but was not on a suicide watch. No details about how he managed to hang himself have been released.

Perhaps his death, along with the demolition of the house where he imprisoned the women, will bring some measure of peace to Knight, along with Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, his other victims. We can only hope.

Their story captured the nation’s attention in early May when these three young women, missing since 2004 or earlier, were found alive. One of them — Berry — took the opportunity while Castro was out of the house to yell for help.

Charles Ramsey, who abandoned his Big Mac to answer Berry’s screams, was among the neighbors coming to the rescue. Ramsey had his 15 minutes of fame after the video of his interview with a local television station went viral. He made us laugh — albeit a bit nervously — when he said, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl jump into a black man’s arms.”

That was May 6. We listened to Berry’s 911 call on a borrowed cell phone as she said, “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years.” We were captivated by the details of the case, how Castro had lured the girls into his car,  how he had kept them hidden from view when his brothers came to visit, how he had fathered a child with Berry, how he had forced Knight to miscarry her pregnancies and how the women reclaimed their freedom and their lives.

Justice moved swiftly in this case, with Castro sentenced less than three months after his arrest. But at his hearing, Castro seemed to blame his victims.

He said he couldn’t control himself, citing his addiction to sex and pornography and saying: “Most of the sex that went on in that house, probably all of it, was consensual.”

Claiming that the victim was a willing participant in her rape is a common and cruel excuse.

Just last week Montana’s District Judge G. Todd Baugh said a 14-year-old rape victim — who had committed suicide herself — was “as much in control of the situation” as the 54-year-old high school teacher who pleaded guilty. That wasn’t enough. He also described the girl as “being older than her chronological age.”

After the barrage of criticism for his remarks, the judge has apologized and is even calling for a new sentencing hearing, saying that the state requires a minimum mandatory two-year sentence instead of the mere 30 days he had imposed.

The Navy midshipman who believes she was raped by three former Navy football players after passing out at a party has been subjected to unbelievable questions during the Article 32, a military hearing to determine if the case should go to a court-martial. She has been asked if she was wearing a bra or underwear that night and whether she “felt like a ho” the next morning. One attorney even questioned her about oral sex.

Castro’s victims were spared the humiliation and indignities of a trial when he agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence instead of prosecutors seeking the death penalty.

Did he regret his decision? Did he fear for his safety in prison? Did he yearn to be free again?

After Jody Arias was found guilty this spring of murder, she first told Fox News she wanted to be executed. Before she changed her mind, she explained why. “Death is the ultimate freedom.”

Perhaps Ariel Castro has found freedom in death. I just hope his victims can enjoy their freedom, now, and forget the memories of those nightmare years.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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Diana Reese | September 2, 2013