Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, the three women who prosecutors say were held in captivity for years by a Cleveland man, thank the public for supporting them in a video posted online Monday night:
The women had gone missing separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16, and 20 years old.
In the video, none of the women had any visible scars of the abuse they said they suffered at the hands of Ariel Castro, who has pleaded not guilty to a 329-count indictment alleging he kidnapped them off the streets and held them captive in his two-story home. They were smiling and appeared upbeat.
Castro, a 52-year-old former bus driver, fathered a 6-year-old daughter with Berry and is accused of starving and punching Knight, causing her to miscarry. He was arrested May 6, shortly after Berry broke through a door at the home and yelled to neighbors for help.
Knight said in the video that she is building a “brand new life.”
“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,” she said, reading from a prepared statement. “I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred.”
DeJesus’ parents, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz, thanked the public for donations to a fund set up to help the women. In addition, Ruiz encouraged parents with missing loved ones to reach out for assistance. “Count on your neighbors,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for the help because help is available.”
Kathy Joseph, Knight’s attorney, said in a statement that the three women wanted to “say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world, now that two months have passed.”
She said they’re being recognized in public, “so they decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages.”
Watch the video below.
Castro was arrested May 6 after Berry called to neighbors for help through the door of his house. He is being held on a $8 million bail, and has pleaded not guilty to a 329-count indictment, which includes charges of kidnapping and rape, as well as murder (he is accused of violently causing one of the women to miscarry).
Castro was ruled competent to stand trial last week, and his trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 5, but delays are possible:
Prosecutor Saleh Awadallah said a meeting is planned July 11 to discuss the possibility of seeking the death penalty for the 52-year-old Castro, who faces aggravated murder charges stemming from allegations that he caused the deliberate termination of one of the women’s pregnancies.
Awadallah invited Castro’s attorney, Craig Weintraub, to submit evidence to him before the meeting to support an argument against the death penalty in the upcoming discussions.
Castro’s attorneys have previously hinted that he might plead guilty if talk of capital punishment was taken off the table.
Awadallah said prosecutors would be going back to the county grand jury to seek more charges against Castro, but he didn’t know when that would happen.
For past coverage of the women’s escape from what prosecutors call their captivity, continue reading here.