By Gary Strauss, USA TODAY
The sentencing hearing for Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man responsible for the kidnapping and rape of three women for more than a decade, began Thursday with the former school bus driver apologizing to his victims.
Heavily shackled and wearing his orange jail jumpsuit, Castro was led into the courtroom at 9:23 a.m. "I want to apologize to the victims,'' Castro said at the outset. He's expected to give a statement explaining his life, which he said previously had been impacted by being sexually abused as a child and a long-time addiction to pornography.
Castro's brief apology came before a series of law enforcement officials detailed some of the grisly details behind the years of sexual, emotional and physical torture Castro forced upon his victims, including binding them with chains, repeated beatings and putting a gun to their heads.
His attorney, Craig Weintraub, said Castro has "significant undisclosed mental illness."
But Gregory Saathoff, a forensic psychiatrist who reviewed Castro's interrogation, later testified that Castro had no "mental illness whatsoever" and had been methodical in keeping the women captive and avoiding detection.
Castro, 53, pleaded guilty to 937 charges last week, including aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping, to avoid the death penalty. Under terms of the plea deal, he'll get life imprisonment, plus 1,000 years, with no chance for parole.
Castro kidnapped Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight between 2002 and 2004, fathering a Christmas Day child with Berry. The girl is now 6. He also beat and starved Knight when she became pregnant, forcing her to miscarry five times.
The three have rarely been seen in public since they were rescued from Castro's home May 6. Berry, 27, appeared on stage at a Nelly concert two days after Castro's plea, while DeJesus was seen when a tall privacy fence was built around her home last weekend.
Dave Jacob, a Cuyahoga County sheriff's deputy who interrogated Castro following his arrest, said Castro described himself as a sexual predator and said he imprisoned the women to satisfy his sexual desires.
The testimony is part of prosecutors' plan to lay out a compelling case of how Castro's actions impacted his victims' lives. The sentencing hearing "is about making clear this man's acts had on his victims and this community,'' said Joseph Frolik, a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.
"We understand we're not putting on a criminal trial. But we're glad at the prospect of closure for the victims and the community," Frolik said.
Before the hearing, prosecutors set up a model of Castro's house, which was expected to show where and how Castro held and tormented his victims.
Each of the women was lured to the house, either with a promise of a ride, a visit with Castro's daughter or, in Knight's case, a puppy for her son.
Once in the house, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said in a sentencing memorandum, Castro kept them chained and locked in the upstairs rooms or subjected them to "the cold of the basement and the heat of the attic as punishment techniques."
According to the memo, Castro told his captives that "he had other victims and that some of them made it home but that others had not."
The document states that "the victims of the defendant's heinous crimes did everything humanly possible to retain a sense of normalcy. They were able to mark the passage of time through the maintenance of diaries. Several diary entries document abuse and life as a captive."
At the time of his plea, Castro told Judge Michael Russo that he was addicted to pornography, had long-running sexual problems and had been sexually abused as a child. But until Thursday, Castro offered no remorse for the kidnappings and no apologies.
McGinty has said he'll ask Russo to prohibit Castro from ever seeing the daughter he fathered with Berry. Anthony Castro, a 31-year-old son from Castro's first marriage, has said he won't visit his father in prison.
As part of the plea agreement, Castro will give up his Seymour Avenue home, which will be demolished.
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