Former bus driver Ariel Castro blamed a sex addiction for his crimes before receiving a life sentence today in a shocking kidnapping, torture and rape of three women he imprisoned in his Cleveland home for over a decade.
"People are trying to paint me as a monster and I'm not a monster… I’m sick," he told the court Thursday shortly before Judge Michael Russo handed down his lengthy sentence of a life term with no chance of parole plus 1,000 years.
"There is no place in this city, there is no place in this country, there is no place in this world for those who enslave others," Russo said while handing down his sentence.
Before Castro spoke, Michelle Knight, one of his three victims, described "11 years of hell" after her kidnapping at age 21, and being locked up in the home she shared with the other two victims, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, who weren't present in court.
Castro, 53, said he believes he's "addicted to porn to the point that I am impulsive and I don’t realize that what I do is wrong."
Castro, who agreed to a plea deal last week to avoid the death penalty for over 900 charges including kidnapping and rape, said "there was harmony in that home" where the three women lived in captivity for years until their escape in May.
He also said "most of the sex that went on in the house, and probably all of it, was consensual."
After his statement, the judge thanked Knight, who was sitting composed in the courtroom, for her "remarkable restraint during that statement."
Earlier, in her emotional victim impact statement, Knight, now 32, said, "I spent 11 years in hell, now your hell is just beginning.
"I will overcome all this that has happened," she said. "I will not let you define me or affect who I am. I will live on; you will die a little every day."
Sylvia Colon, a spokesperson for the DeJesus family, also addressed the court with a statement extending sympathies to Castro’s family, saying, "We do not hold you accountable and we pray that one day you may be whole again."
As for DeJesus, now 23, "she thrives – she laughs, she swims, she dances, she loves, and more importantly, she is loved… she lives not as a victim, but as a survivor," Colon said.
Berry is now 27 years old.
Castro 'knew' what he did was wrong
Prosecutors detailed Castro's assaults and law enforcement witnesses described the jerry-rigged prison he built in his ramshackle home.
Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Det. Dave Jacobs said he spoke with Castro a few days after the women escaped in May and that Castro said, "I knew what I did was wrong."
A police officer who helped rescue the women said one was reluctant to come out of her room even when she saw the officers. The women were scared even after they were taken out of the house and quickly began sharing details about the horrors they went through, saying that they had been starved and beaten.
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"They were just shouting out a lot of things," said Cleveland police officer Barb Johnson. She described the women as thin, pale and scared.
Knight "literally launched herself into another officer's arms," Johnson said. "She just kept repeating, 'You saved us! You saved us!'"
Responding to questions from prosecutors, Cleveland police Det. Andrew Harasimchuk said that the women all described a pattern of being physically, sexually and emotionally assaulted for years. He said all three women were abducted after Castro offered them a ride and that each was chained in his basement and sexually assaulted within a few hours of being kidnapped.
Forensic psychologist Greg Saathoff marvelled at Castro's "duplicity," as he lived a double life with family, friends and a girlfriend, even while continually raping and abusing the three women.
Chains, boarded-up windows
FBI special agent Andrew Burke described some of the conditions found inside Castro's house, including a makeshift front-door alarm system and a heavy curtain shielding the second floor.
Burke narrated as a series of photos were shown, revealing bedroom windows that were boarded shut from the inside with heavy closet doors. A door to one bedroom was modified with locks on the outside and the doorknob removed. A hole was cut into the door to provide ventilation.
He said the house was divided in ways to make it more secure and to hide the existence of rooms.
A series of alarm clocks were wired to the front door, and some rooms had ventilation only to the attic because of the boarded-up windows. There also were chains in the women's rooms.
Another witness, Det. David Jacobs, showed a powerful handgun belonging to Castro and said the women told him Castro would force them to play Russian roulette.
Burke also testified that Castro would occasionally pay his victims after raping them.
His first encounter with the victims was a powerful moment.
"I'll never forget it," Burke said. "It was surreal to me. I had been involved in the missing persons investigations for quite some time."
'Disgusting and inhuman conduct'
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said in a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday that Castro, who chained his captives and fed them only one meal a day, "admits his disgusting and inhuman conduct" but "remains remorseless for his actions."
The memorandum says many of the specific charges in Castro's indictment reflect conduct documented by one of the women in her diary.
"The entries speak of forced sexual conduct, of being locked in a dark room, of anticipating the next session of abuse, of the dreams of someday escaping and being reunited with family, of being chained to a wall, of being held like a prisoner of war ... of being treated like an animal," it says.
Prosecutors brought a model of the house where Castro imprisoned the women into the courtroom Thursday ahead of the sentencing.
In the court filing, McGinty said Castro chained his captives by their ankles, fed them only one meal a day and provided plastic toilets in their bedrooms that were infrequently emptied, the filing said. At one point, he locked all of them in a vehicle in his garage for three days while he had a visitor, according to McGinty's filing.
The women quickly escaped after Berry kicked out the door panel on May 6 and Castro was arrested within hours. The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
Other horrific details of the women's ordeal had already emerged, including tales of being chained to poles in the basement or a bedroom heater or inside a van, with one woman forced to wear a motorcycle helmet while chained in the basement and, after she tried to escape, having a vacuum cord wrapped around her neck.
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Castro repeatedly starved and beat one of the victims each time she was pregnant, forcing her to miscarry five times.
He forced the same woman on threat of death to safely deliver the child he fathered with another victim on Christmas Day 2006. The same day, prosecutors say, Castro raped the woman who helped deliver his daughter.
Berry, 27, made a surprise onstage appearance at a rap concert last weekend, and a second victim, DeJesus has made a few televised comments. Knight appeared with Berry and DeJesus in a video in early July thanking the community for its support.
Knight, the first of three to disappear, also sent police a handwritten letter thanking them for their help collecting cards and gifts for the women. In the note, Knight told Second District Cmdr. Keith Sulzer, "Life is tough, but I'm tougher!"