Ariel Castro agreed Friday to plead guilty in a Cleveland court to kidnapping and raping three women during a decade of captivity as part of deal that will spare him the death penalty but keep him in prison for the rest of his life.
[Updated at 9:17 a.m., July 26: Castro later entered his formal guilty plea and explained that he had a sexual problem and had been a victim of sexual abuse himself.]
Castro, 53, sat at the defendant's table, flanked by his lawyers as Judge Michael J. Russo repeatedly questioned him about whether he understood the details of the agreement. Wearing handcuffs and an orange jail jumpsuit, the bearded Castro looked forward and repeatedly said he was aware and agreed with the final disposition of the case that shook the nation.
"Are you fully aware of the terms and consent to the agreement?" Russo asked.
"I am aware of that," Castro replied.
The agreement calls for Castro to plead guilty and be sentenced to life without parole plus 1,000 years, a legal formula that ensures he will never be allowed to leave the state's custody.
Russo asked whether Castro understood that he was pleading guilty and admitting to have done all that had been charged.
"Yes, your honor," Castro replied.
At one point he was asked if he understood he would never be released from prison, Castro replied that he did, then added: "I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me."
Castro's trial on almost 1,000 counts of kidnapping, rape and other crimes had been scheduled to start Aug. 5, but the defense and prosecution have been negotiating a plea deal for weeks.
For the defense, the agreement means that Castro will not be executed, which was a possibility if he was convicted of some of the charges. The prosecution gets the assurance that the former school bus driver will be in prison for life while ensuring that the victims do not have to relive their ordeals in open court. Taxpayers will save the cost of a long and expensive legal process that comes in capital cases.
Castro was arrested on May 6 after the women escaped from his house in a poor area of Cleveland. The women, Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27, were freed along with a 6-year-old girl Castro fathered with Berry.
The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s. Each said she had accepted a ride from Castro.
The women issued a statement more than a month ago saying they were "hopeful for a just and prompt resolution" and had "great faith in the prosecutor's office and the court."
Castro is accused of repeatedly restraining the women, chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. His indictment charges him with 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, six counts of felonious assault, three counts of child endangerment and one count of possessing criminal tools.
Among the charges was the allegation that he forced a woman to have a miscarriage, which in Ohio could have been a capital crime.