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Cleveland kidnapping suspect could face death penalty

Lawyers will evaluate pursuing the death penalty for Ariel Castro, after allegations surface that he forced his victims to have miscarriages during their years of captivity in his home.

May 09, 2013|By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

Hours after Ariel Castro was arraigned on rape and kidnapping counts in connection with three women held prisoner for years in his Cleveland house, Ohio prosecutors said they would seek new charges that he abused some of his victims and forced them to have miscarriages.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, whose office will present the case to a grand jury, said that if Castro, 52, were charged and convicted of aggravated murder as a result of the miscarriages, he could face the death penalty.

"Based on the facts, I fully intend to seek charges for each and every act of sexual violence, rape, each day of kidnapping, every felonious assault, all his attempted murders and each act of aggravated murder he committed by terminating pregnancies" during the years the women were held, McGinty said during a televised news conference.

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"My office of the county prosecutor will also engage in a formal process in which we evaluate whether to seek charges eligible for the death penalty," he said. "The law of Ohio calls for the death penalty for those most depraved criminals who commit aggravated murder during the course of a kidnapping."

Castro was arrested Monday and is accused of kidnapping and abusing three women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — at his house. Berry led an escape by breaking through a screen door on Monday and, with the help of neighbors, contacting police.

Now 27, Berry was just shy of her 17th birthday when she vanished in 2003. Knight, 32, was 20 when she disappeared in 2002. DeJesus was 14 when she went missing in 2004.

Officials have been careful not to reveal details, but have said that the imprisonment was cruel and involved repeated sexual assaults. "The horrific brutality and torture the victims endured for more than a decade is beyond comprehension," McGinty said.

Cleveland news media have reported that one of the women is said to have had five pregnancies that ended when Castro punched her in the stomach until she miscarried. Officials have yet to officially confirm those accounts, attributed to an unreleased police report of the women's interviews with authorities.

The Associated Press on Thursday said it had obtained a copy of the police report saying that the three women were starved and raped during their captivity. Berry described in the report how she gave birth to her daughter, now 6 years old, in a plastic pool. The baby was delivered by Knight, who said she was threatened with death if Berry's child had died. Knight also said she endured five forced miscarriages, according to the wire service.

In the wake of the leaked police reports, Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson warned employees to stop unauthorized releases.

"As we allow the victims and their families to transition through this very difficult time, we need to give them space and time to heal," Jackson said in a statement emailed to reporters Thursday. City employees should "cease and desist releasing information and records outside of the established chain of command and protocols," he said.

Earlier Thursday, Castro, a former school bus driver, was arraigned on four charges of kidnapping — one charge for each of the women and one for Berry's daughter. He was also charged with three counts of rape. Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Lauren Moore set bail at $8 million — $2 million for each of the four victims.

It was the first court appearance for Castro. He did not speak during the brief televised proceeding, and no plea was entered on his behalf. Wearing handcuffs and dark blue jail togs, he spent his time looking down, chin tucked deeply into his shirt.

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Castro's two brothers were also arrested after the women's escape. On Wednesday, authorities said there was no evidence linking 54-year-old Pedro Castro or 50-year-old Onil Castro to the house or the kidnappings.

The brothers also appeared in court Thursday to answer previous, unrelated charges. Pedro Castro pleaded no contest to an open-container charge while two charges against Onil Castro were dismissed.

Both men left the courthouse later in the day, refusing to talk with reporters.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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