Ariel Castro, the man alleged to have kidnapped and kept hostage three Cleveland women over the course of 10 years, was arraigned on additional charges Wednesday bringing the total count of charges against him to 977.
During a brief court appearance, a lawyer for the 53-year-old former school bus driver entered the not guilty pleas. Castro's attorney, Craig Weintraub, waived a reading of the full indictment, which also includes 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, six counts of felony assault, and one count of possessing tools such as a Ruger handgun used to aid in the crimes.
Judge Pamela Barker summarized the charges against Castro. When she asked if he understood the charges, Castro replied, "yes." Barker several times told Castro to raise his head and to open his eyes. "You must look at me sir. I need for you to open your eyes please," Baker said.
Castro seemed to visibly struggle with her request and closed his eyes throughout the proceedings.
The judge kept in place an $8 million bond and an order that Castro have no contact with the three women and the child.
Wednesday's court appearance follows a grand jury hearing on Friday during which 648 charges were added to a previous indictment against Castro, who is accused of abducting the first of the women in 2002 and holding them captive until they escaped from his house on May 6 along with a six-year-old girl he fathered with one of the women.
- Cleveland kidnapping suspect faces 977 charges
- How the Ohio missing women's case unfolded
10 years in confinement
Law enforcement officials have said that the women, Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27, were kept bound in chains or rope for periods of time and that they endured starvation, beatings and repeated sexual assaults.
The most serious of the charges against Castro, two counts of aggravated murder under a fetal homicide law over allegations he forced Knight to miscarry, could potentially carry a death sentence if prosecutors choose to pursue it.
According to the indictment, Knight was pregnant at least three times from September 2002 to December 2003. Castro's aggravated murder charge stems from allegations that he forced her to miscarry in a fourth pregnancy from 2006 to 2007.
Castro has not sought to delay the start of his trial, which is scheduled for Aug. 5, but defence attorneys again said on Wednesday they are seeking a plea agreement in the case.
"We are preparing for that trial however with the goal in mind to try to resolve this for the fairness of the women as well as the community so everyone can put this behind them," Castro's attorney, Craig Weintraub, told reporters.
"Either we are going to have a plea or we are going to have a trial on Aug. 5," he said.
DNA evidence has confirmed that Castro was the father of the girl, who was born to Berry. At a court appearance in early July, Castro asked to be allowed jail visits from his daughter.
A judge rejected the request immediately as "not appropriate."