CLEVELAND, Ohio — In handing down a sentence of life in prison plus 1,000 years to Ariel Castro, an Ohio judge told the kidnapper on Thursday that there was no place in the world for his brand of criminal.
Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including murder and kidnapping, in connection with the kidnapping and abuse of Michelle Knight, Georgina DeJesus and Amanda Berry, whom he held captive for a decade in his Cleveland home. As part of the plea deal, the death penalty was taken off the table.
“You don’t deserve to be out in our community,” Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo said after an hours-long hearing in which Castro, at times, appeared to defend his actions. “You’re too dangerous.”
In his oft-disjointed statement to the court, Castro referred to himself as “very emotional” and “a happy person inside.”
Despite his repeated insistence that he wasn’t making excuses for his conduct, Castro played the victim, saying he was addicted to porn and masturbation.
The judge appeared to be unmoved by Castro’s words and matter-of-factly handed down a severe sentence that will likely make Castro a prisoner for the rest of his days.
“Excuses don’t take away the harm that’s involved,” Russo said. “You have extreme narcissism and it seems rather pervasive.”
Russo handed down the stiffest sentence allowed as part of the deal after investigators, psychologists and one of the victims painted a horrifying picture of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Castro, including brutal beatings and repeated rapes that resulted in pregnancies that he would terminate by punching the women in the stomach.
All three women kept diaries, with Castro’s permission, that provided many of the details of their abuse.
‘Eleven years in hell’
Berry and DeJesus, who did not attend the hearing, sent family members to deliver impact statements on their behalf, while Knight chose to address her abductor head-on.
Knight, who was taken first and held the longest, told Castro the death penalty “would be so much easier.”
“You took 11 years of my life away,” she said. “I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning.”
In a pre-sentencing evaluation, Dr. Frank Ochberg, a pioneer in trauma science, wrote that Knight suffered “the longest and most severely.”
“It was Michelle who served as doctor, nurse, midwife and pediatrician during the birth (of Berry’s child). She breathed life into that infant when she wasn’t breathing,” he wrote. “At other times, she interceded when Castro sought to abuse Gina, interposing herself and absorbing physical and sexual trauma. But each survivor had a will to prevail and used that will to live through the ordeal.”
Castro is the father of Berry’s 6-year-old girl, DNA tests have confirmed.
Castro appeared to blame the victims and accused them of lying about their treatment. He went on to say that none of the women was a virgin when he abducted them, that they wanted to have sex with him and there was “harmony” in the “happy household.”
Castro even claimed that no one cared enough about Knight to search for her after she disappeared.
“I’m not a monster. I’m just sick. I have an addiction, just like an alcoholic has an addiction,” he said. “God as my witness, I never beat these women like they’re trying to say that I did. I never tortured them.”
When Castro finished, Russo dubbed him a “violent sexual predator” and thanked Knight for showing “remarkable restraint” during the hearing.
Wearing eyeglasses and an orange prison uniform, the shackled Castro characterized his crimes in a far gentler light than did the book-length indictment against him: “I’m not a violent person. I simply kept them there so they couldn’t leave.”
Testimony from authorities and mental health experts didn’t jibe with Castro’s recollection, however. Police recalled how the women were forced to play Russian roulette and how Castro would throw money at them after raping them.
Detective David Jacobs of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office testified he’d also show a gun “to the girls as a form of control.”
It was all to “purely satisfy his sexual needs,” Jacobs said. “ ‘I knew what I did was wrong.’ He said that more than once.”
Castro’s 1,400-square-foot home was reconfigured to keep the women’s whereabouts a secret, FBI agent Andrew Burke testified. The back door was outfitted with an alarm; bedspreads and curtains obscured parts of the home; and a porch swing was placed in front of the stairs leading to the rooms where Castro held the women and girl hostage.
In the room where Berry and her daughter were held, the doorknob was removed, a lock was affixed to the outside and a hole was cut through the door for ventilation because the windows had been boarded up from the inside, Burke said.
Burke also described a handwritten letter in which Castro claimed he had been sexually abused as a child and wrote, “I am a sexual predator.”
‘You saved us!’
The first police officer on the scene, Barbara Johnson, recalled for the court how she and another officer heard the pitter-patter of footsteps in a dark room where Knight and DeJesus were held.
When the captive women realized they were police, Knight “literally launched herself” onto an officer, “legs, arms, just choking him. She just kept repeating, ‘You saved us! You saved us!’ “ Johnson said.
Multiple officers testified that Castro appeared to show no remorse for his crimes, and prosecutor Anna Faraglia said he “tormented” his victims by allowing them to watch vigils held in their honor, and he even attended some.
Castro would talk to his victims’ parents as if he were distraught by their disappearances when “they were right underneath his roof,” Faraglia said.
‘Thank you, victims’
In addition to Russo’s guarantee that he “will never be released from incarceration during the period of his remaining natural life for any reason,” Castro was also hit with a forfeiture of property and fined $100,000.
As the judge sentenced him, Castro took issue with the aggravated murder charge related to the termination of his victims’ pregnancies, saying there was no evidence those incidents occurred. Russo reminded him that he had already pleaded guilty, and Castro said he did so only to save his victims further trauma.
“In your mind, there was harmony and a happy household,” Russo said. “I’m not sure there’s anyone else in America who would agree with you.”
As the hearing came to a close, Castro turned around in the court and glanced at family members of the victims.
“Thank you, victims. Please find it in your heart to forgive me,” he said.
In each case, according to court documents, Castro lured the women into his car with the promise of a ride. The women and girl were freed in May after Berry shouted for help while Castro was away.
Neighbors heard her cries and came to her aid as she tried to break through a door to get out. One neighbor gave her a cell phone to call authorities.
“Help me, I am Amanda Berry,” she frantically told a 911 operator. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here. I’m free now.”
In early July, Berry, DeJesus and Knight released a YouTube video thanking all those who have helped them since they were freed. Berry and DeJesus have not faced their captor and tormentor since their rescue.
“I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal. Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing,” Berry said in the video. “I’m getting stronger each day.”
CNN’s Drew Griffin reported from Cleveland; and Chelsea J. Carter and Eliott C. McLaughlin reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Pamela Brown, Joe Sterling, Chris Boyette, Ronni Berke and Martin Savidge contributed to this report.
Drew Griffin, Chelsea J. Carter and Eliott C. McLaughlin | CNN