Attorneys for the man accused of kidnapping three young Cleveland females and holding them for a decade are trying to fight off the death penalty, and in so doing, dropped subtle hints Wednesday about the possibility of making a plea deal.
Some of the charges against Ariel Castro, 52, "cannot be disputed," attorney Craig Weintraub told reporters after a hearing Wednesday morning, in which a 329-count indictment for rape, kidnapping and murder was lodged against his client. Three women who had been missing for a decade were discovered in Castro's home last month.
For the entire 80 seconds Ariel Castro appeared in court Wednesday, his bowed head did not lift above a 45-degree angle as he stared at the floor.
As Castro's attorneys entered a not-guilty plea for him in the abduction case that shocked Cleveland, his eyes appeared to be closed. When it was over, he trudged away, face still bowed at the floor. His eyes never met another face.
The case has entered a tender legal phase as prosecutors and Castro's attorney decide whether to broach a plea deal that would spare Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who have begged for privacy, from having to recount horrific details of rape and dungeon-like conditions in a highly public trial.
Without saying so explicitly, the defense hinted at that possibility Wednesday.
Weintraub said the not-guilty plea would force prosecutors to consider whether murder charges -- founded on allegations that Castro beat one of the women and caused a miscarriage -- were really worth pursuing in court.
"We are very sensitive to the emotional strain and impact that a trial would have on the women, their families and this community," Weintraub said. "Mr. Castro currently faces hundreds of years in prison with the current charges, and it is our hope that we can continue to work toward a resolution to avoid having an unnecessary trial about aggravated murder and the death penalty.”
So what would such a "resolution" mean? Are Castro's attorneys willing to accept a plea deal that would ward off any trial if prosecutors just drop the murder charges? A reporter asked as much, and Weintraub declined to clarify.
“We’re not answering any questions at this time," Weintraub said. "The statement speaks for itself.”
It's a trial balloon that made a quiet landing at the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office, where a spokesman told the Associated Press that the defense's remarks were under review.
The victims, too, responded softly, in a statement given through an attorney that said "days like today aren't easy."
"We understand the legal process needs to run its course," they said in the written statement issued through attorney Jim Wooley, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We are hopeful for a just and prompt resolution. We have great faith in the prosecutor’s office and the court."
Castro's first pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for June 19.
According to the Plain Dealer, he is being held away from other inmates at the Cuyahoga County Jail and, officials said, being checked on every 10 minutes for his own protection.
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