Ariel Castro in the courtroom during the sentencing phase in Cleveland. (Tony Dejak, Associated…)
Ariel Castro, the man who has been sentenced to life in prison for holding three Cleveland women captive for roughly a decade before their rescue this year, was found hanged in his cell and is believed to have committed suicide, Ohio officials said.
Castro, 53, was found in his cell at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient Tuesday evening, a prison spokeswoman told the Associated Press. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The spokeswoman, JoEllen Smith, says Castro was found hanging in his cell about 9:20 p.m. Tuesday at the prison in Orient. Prison medical staff performed CPR before Castro was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004. They escaped May 6, when one of them broke part of a door and yelled to neighbors for help. Castro was arrested that evening.
Castro was sentenced Aug. 1 to life in prison plus 1,000 years on his guilty plea to 937 counts including kidnapping and rape.
Justice was swift for Castro after Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were rescued by neighbors. Berry gave birth to a daughter, now 6, fathered by Castro while she was held in brutal conditions in his home, which was later demolished.
Castro, who pleaded guilty ostensibly to avoid the death penalty, gave a lengthy farewell at his sentencing a few weeks ago in a rambling, self-justifying speech attempting to explain his actions. At one point, he claimed the abuse included consensual sex.
"These people are trying to paint me as a monster. I am not a monster. I am sick," Castro told Judge Michael J. Russo. "I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me," he said later.
Knight, the only one of his victims to ultimately face him in court, would not forgive.
"I spent 11 years in hell," Knight told Castro at his sentencing. "Now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all that happened, but you're going to face hell for eternity.
"From this moment on, I am not going to let you define me or affect who I am," Knight continued. "I will live on, but you will die a little more inside each day as you think of those 11 years and the atrocities you inflicted on us.... The death penalty would be the easy way out. You don't deserve that. We want you to spend the rest of your life in prison."
During court hearings, officers told of how the women were chained to poles in the basement or to a bedroom heater, or kept at bay in a van. One woman was forced to wear a motorcycle helmet while chained in the basement and, after she tried to escape, had a vacuum cord wrapped around her neck, officials said.
Castro repeatedly starved and beat Knight each time she was pregnant, forcing her to miscarry five times, authorities said. Castro also forced Knight to safely deliver on Christmas Day 2006 the child he fathered with Berry. That same day, prosecutors said, Castro raped Knight yet again.
Castro "tormented me constantly, especially on holidays," Knight said at Castro's sentencing. "Christmas was the most traumatic day because I didn't get to spend it with my son. No one should ever have to experience what we went through. Not even an enemy."
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