One of the three women held captive and brutalized by Ariel Castro in his Cleveland home declared to a spellbound courtroom Thursday that she would overcome all that has happened to her.
“I spent 11 years in hell,” Michelle Knight told Castro at a hearing where he was sentenced to life without parole plus 1,000 years in prison. “Now, your hell is just beginning.”
Castro described himself as a sick person struggling with a sexual addiction, but he insisted that he was not abusive by nature.
“I know what I did was wrong, but I am not a violent person,” said the former school bus driver and musician, who pleaded guilty to 937 felony counts including rape, assault and kidnapping.
Of his three captives, who were repeatedly bound, beaten and raped over the course of a decade and were repeatedly deprived of food as well as their freedom, Castro said: “I simply kept them there without them being able to leave.”
Castro lured each of his victims to his home by offering them rides and then lying to them about what was inside his residence, a police detective testified at the sentencing hearing. He offered Knight a puppy, told Amanda Berry that she could visit his daughter, whom Berry knew, and asked Gina DeJesus for help moving a stereo speaker.
Each of the women told police that they trusted Castro, in part, because they knew at least one of his teenage or young adult children.
Within minutes of getting each woman inside the house, Detective Andrew Harasimchuk said, Castro tied them up and raped them. It was an immediate and horrific beginning to a decade of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
During her captivity, Berry became pregnant by Castro and gave birth to a child, who is now 6 years old. Knight has told authorities that Castro impregnated her multiple times as well, and then starved, beat and mistreated her until she miscarried.
“You took 11 years of my life away, and I have got it back,” said Knight, the only one of the three victims to testify in court. “I will live on; you will die a little every day.”
As part of his plea deal, Castro, 53, received a sentence of life with no chance of parole for aggravated murder on a charge of forced miscarriage. He also received 1,000 years for the kidnapping, rape, assault and other charges.
He was ordered to have no contact with his any of his victims, including his 6-year-old daughter.
Castro repeatedly apologized to Knight, Berry and DeJesus at the sentencing hearing. But in a rambling, 20-minute statement, he also disputed that he had been violent, saying there was “harmony” in his house, and insisting that he was a good father to the little girl he fathered with Berry.
“I am not a monster. I am a normal person. I am just sick,” Castro said. “I have an addiction. Just like an alcoholic has an addiction.”
At different times, he appeared to blame the FBI and the women themselves for various aspects of their long captivity. He said he did not plan to abduct Knight when he overheard her asking for directions in a dollar store, but he did so on impulse, driven by his aberrant sexual urges.
“I never tortured them,” Castro said.
Knight was 21 when she was abducted by Castro in 2002; Berry was taken in 2003, at age 16; and DeJesus was kidnapped in 2002, when she was 13 years old.
The women escaped Castro’s house on May 6, after Berry kicked out part of a door and called to neighbors for help. Police who arrived on the scene entered Castro’s house and found Knight and DeJesus on the second floor. Castro was arrested hours later.
Cleveland Police officer Barb Johnson, once of the first officers to respond, said all three women were thin, scared and unnaturally pale. Other police officers testified that more than 100 pounds of chains and padlocks were found inside Castro’s home.
Photos entered into evidence showed the cluttered basement and small, shabby rooms where the women were held captive, along with a wig that Castro made the women wear on the very rare occasions when they were allowed to leave the house. There was also a confessional letter, handwritten by Castro, that included the line, “I’m a sexual predator.”
When he pleaded guilty last week, Castro said he understood the charges against him and that he would never be released from prison, adding: “My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind.”
Castro’s defense attorneys objected to the presentation of detailed evidence at the sentencing hearing, saying that the airing of the “salacious” facts would violate the victims’ privacy and were not in the interest of justice. One reason for entering the plea deal and avoiding a trial, they said, was to avoid making such information public.
Russo, however, said the evidence presented was relevant in helping him determine whether to impose the sentence agreed to by both parties. Prosecutors said they also wanted to enter details of the case into the public record, so there is no chance of Castro’s sentence ever being altered or reduced.
In her statement, Knight said that Castro would routinely attend church on Sunday, “then come home and torture us.”
“The years turned into eternity. I knew nobody cared about me. He told me that my family didn’t care,” Knight said. “Nobody should have to go through what I went through.”
Both Berry and DeJesus were represented in court by relatives, who made statements on their behalf.
Sylvia Colon, a cousin of DeJesus, said her family was eager to close this horrific chapter of their lives. “Our beloved family member thrives,” Colon said. “She laughs, she swims, she dances. . . . She will finish school, go to college and, when she chooses, fall in love and get married.”
Colon then turned toward Castro, who wore a prison jumpsuit and was seated at the defense table, and addressed him in Spanish. According to translations posted on Twitter, she said, ”God have mercy on your soul.”
Beth Serrano, Berry’s sister, said she is “strong and beautiful inside and out, and she is doing better every day.”
Serrano spoke tearfully about her family’s desire not to revisit the captivity in public and to keep details of the ordeal private, so that Berry can explain it to her young daughter in her own way, when she feels it is right.
“Amanda did not control anything for a long time. Can we just let her have control over this, so she can protect her daughter?” Serrano said. “She will do anything to protect her daughter.”
When he testified, Harasimchuk said Knight, who was held the longest of the three women, accepted a ride from Castro because she knew his older daughter Emily. She went into his house, the detective said, because Castro offered to give her a puppy as a present for her young son.
There was no puppy inside the house. Instead, Castro tied Knight up using an extension cord, made her wear one of the many motorcycle helmets that he owned and raped her.
Berry told the detective that she was walking home from work wearing a Burger King uniform when she saw Castro’s van drive by. She thought she saw a woman in the van whom she recognized.
When the van circled back a few moments later, Castro offered Berry a ride. She agreed, the detective said, realizing only after she entered that no one else was in the van. Castro asked Berry if she knew his son, who had also worked at the Burger King, and Berry said she did. He then asked if she knew one of his daughters and whether she wanted to go and see that daughter at his house.
Castro abducted Gina DeJesus just moments after seeing her walking home from school on a busy Cleveland boulevard with his youngest daughter, Arlene, whose nickname is Rosie. The two girls were friends.
Castro made a U-turn with his van, said Sheriff’s Deputy David Jacobs, who interviewed Castro shortly after his arrest. He then saw that the girls had begun to walk in different directions, each headed to her mother’s home.
“I did a cold-blooded thing to my daughter that day,” Jacobs recalled Castro saying, as he described pulling up alongside DeJesus and asking her if she needed a lift. “I drove past my daughter to get to Gina.”
In his statement, Castro repeated that part of the narrative, in a voice tinged with disbelief.
“I don’t understand how I passed my own daughter to pick her up,” Castro said. “I was driven by sex.”