Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, was arraigned Thursday on rape and kidnapping charges in connection with the disappearance of three Cleveland women, and his bail was set at $8 million.
It was the first court appearance for Castro, 52. He did not speak during the brief televised proceeding, and no plea was entered on his behalf. Wearing dark blue jail togs, he spent his time looking downward. He was handcuffed but his feet were not shackled.
Castro is charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape in connection with the disappearance of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The fourth kidnapping count applies to Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, who was born in captivity. Officials have said they will test to determine who is the father of Berry’s child.
Berry, now 27, 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.
Authorities say the women had been held since their abductions in horrific conditions in a house at 2207 Seymour Ave., kept mainly in the dark and allowed outside just a few times over the years.
Their ordeal at the house ended Monday when Berry broke through a screen door and with the help of neighbors contacted police who went to the home and freed the others.
Brian Murphy, a Cuyahoga County prosecutor, told the court Thursday that the women had endured a “horrifying ordeal for more than a decade” in which they were beaten repeatedly and “bound, restrained and sexually assaulted.”
The charges against Castro, Murphy said, were based his “premeditated, deliberate and depraved decisions to snatch three young ladies from Cleveland’s west side streets to use for whatever self-gratifying, self-serving ways that he saw fit.”
Castro was represented by a public defender, Kathleen DeMetz, who said he would be sent to a city jail medical unit — where those charged with sex crimes or considered suicide risks are normally taken. She said he probably would be held under suicide watch.
Cleveland Municipal Court judge Lauren Moore ordered Castro held in lieu of bail, which the judge set at $8 million -- $2 million for each of the four victims.
Thursday’s appearance was just the first in the case. A grand jury will examine the case and is expected to bring charges, officials said.
Castro and his two brothers were arrested after the women’s escape Monday. On Wednesday authorities said there was no evidence linking 54-year-old Pedro Castro and 50-year-old Onil Castro to the house or the kidnappings. However, they 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, 50, were dismissed. Both men were expected to be released.