By Gary Strauss
Ariel Castro, the former Cleveland school bus driver who pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and abuse of three young women that went on for more than a decade, was sentenced Thursday to life imprisonment with no chance of parole.
Castro's sentence - which was expected under a plea agreement reached last week - came after the Puerto Rico native argued with Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo over being called a sexual predator. He repeatedly denied that he had tortured Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight after he kidnapped them between 2002 to 2004, holding them captive in his home until Berry managed to alert a neighbor and escape on May 6.
Russo said Castro's "merciless acts deserve maximum prison time. No single prison term adequately reflects the enormity of your conduct."
"I still feel based upon the information you've provided to the court that you feel you are a victim," Russo told Castro, who blamed his problems on sexual abuse as a child and a long-time addiction to pornography. "You haven't been a victim, you've been a victimizer. The three young women should have been free to live their lives. They shouldn't have been locked in a house, in deplorable conditions."
Castro, 53, pleaded guilty to 937 charges last week, including aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping, to avoid the death penalty.
Castro fathered a child with Berry. The girl, born on Christmas Day, is now 6. Knight was impregnated repeatedly by Castro, who beat and starved her, resulting in her miscarrying five times. A tearful Knight, now 32, testified earlier Thursday that Castro had put her through hell. "Your hell is just beginning,'' she said.
"I will live on. You will die a little bit every day,'' said Knight. She told Castro he was a hypocrite for going to church on Sundays, then returning home "to torture" her, Berry and DeJesus.
"Days never got shorter. Days turned into night, night turned into years. Years turned into eternity,'' said Knight, who said her ordeal was made harder knowing that she might never seen her son, Joey, who was 2 1/2 at the time she was kidnapped.
Castro issued a brief apology at the onset of the hearing and later repeated it after a rambling statement in which he claimed "I'm not a monster." Heavily shackled and wearing his orange jail jumpsuit, the self-described pornography addict said he wasn't "trying to make excuses" for his criminal acts but deferred blame for his actions on the victims and the FBI.
Castro claimed that "there was a lot of harmony" in his home among his victims.
But a series of law enforcement officials and a psychiatrist painted a far grisly portrait, detailing 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.
And while his attorney, Craig Weintraub, said Castro has "significant undisclosed mental illness," Gregory Saathoff, a forensic psychiatrist who reviewed Castro's interrogation, testified that Castro had no "mental illness whatsoever" and had been methodical in keeping the women captive and avoiding detection.
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.
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."
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 sentencing, Castro was also prohibited from ever seeing the daughter he fathered with Berry.
"She's a victim,'' the judge told Castro.
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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