Donna Leinwand Leger and Gary Strauss, USA TODAY
CLEVELAND - Ariel Castro, the former school bus driver who owned the home where three women were held captive for the past decade, was arraigned Thursday morning on kidnapping and rape charges. But Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said later Thursday that Castro could face murder charges if he's implicated in the deaths of the victims' unborn children.
McGinty said pending further police investigation, Castro, 52, could face charge of murder in the course of kidnapping, which carries a potential death penalty. McGinty will present the case to the grand jury and would seek aggravated murder charges for each of the pregnancies.
Initial police reports obtained by Cleveland TV station WKYC said kidnap victims Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were raped by Castro and that Knight had been impregnated five times, then starved and beaten, killing the fetuses. Berry, also impregnated, gave birth to a baby - now 6 - in Castro's basement, according to the report.
Earlier Monday, Castro was arraigned on seven charges of kidnapping and rape. Handcuffed and wearing a dark blue jail jumpsuit, Castro stared at the floor throughout most of the five-minute hearing, even while exchanging words and a few nods with his attorney, public defender Kathleen DeMetz.
Cleveland Municipal Court judge Lauren Moore set bail at $8 million.
It was Castro's first court appearance since Berry's screams Monday alerted neighbors, then the police and the world to the nightmare she and fellow victims Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight endured.
Prosecutor Brian Murphy said the rape and kidnapping charges are based on Castro's "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."
He said the women were forced to endure a "horrifying ordeal for more than a decade" in which they were had been "bound, restrained and sexually assaulted."
"They were never free to leave this residence," he said, referring to Castro's Seymour Avenue home.
Castro did not enter a plea, which DeMetz said would be done when the case is transferred from municipal court to county court. She acknowledged that Castro could face additional charges.
Castro has been under suicide watch during his confinement in the medical ward of the municipal jail. He'll be transferred to the county jail.
CBS News, quoting an unidentified law enforcement source, reported Thursday that FBI agents found a note in Castro's house, apparently dating back to 2004, in which he contemplated suicide and asked that all of his money be provided to each of his victims. In the note, Castro wrote that he was abused as a child and raped by an uncle, CBS said.
DeMetz met with Castro for 30 minutes Thursday morning to review his rights and court procedures. She declined to discuss what they talked about or describe his demeanor.
She said he had not spoken to his brothers, Pedro and Onil. The brothers were arrested Monday, but prosecutors say there is no evidence linking them to the victims' kidnapping or sexual assault. They were in court on unrelated misdemeanor charges Thursday. Pedro Castro pleaded no contest to an unrelated open-container charge and two unrelated misdemeanor charges against Onil Castro were dropped. Both were later freed.
Knight, now 32, remains in a Cleveland hospital. Berry, 27, and DeJesus, 23, returned to their Cleveland homes Wednesday for their first time since they vanished.
As prosecutors consider additional charges, grim details emerge from the initial police report on what went on inside Castro's home, where the victims were heled after being abducted on separate occasions by Castro after he offered them rides home from school or work.
The report sketches the outlines of the victims' descent into hell and is rife with details of beatings, chained confinement, starvation and death threats.
The report alleges that Castro impregnated Knight five times, forced her to starve for weeks at a time and punched her in the stomach until she miscarried. Castro, the report said, also forced Knight to deliver Berry's baby in a plastic kiddie pool and threatened to murder Knight if the newborn died.
"Michelle stated that Ariel told her that if the baby died, that he'd kill her," the police report states, according to WKYC's Tom Meyer.
The report then tells of the next few harrowing minutes as Knight fought for her own life and for the life of Berry's child, Jocelyn, who had stopped breathing during the birth. Knight, the report said, put her mouth to the Jocelyn's mouth and "breathed for her" to keep them both alive.
The report, according to WKYC, says Berry managed to escape Monday because Castro forgot to lock the "big inside door" when he left briefly to go to a local fast-food restaurant. She then alerted neighbors and called 911.
Once police arrived, the officers checked the basement and then walked to the second floor."As we neared the top of the steps, Officer Espada hollered out, 'Cleveland Police,' at which time ... Knight ran and threw herself into (Officer) Espada's arms," the officer writing the report noted. "We then asked if there was anyone else upstairs with her, when (DeJesus) came out of the bedroom."
Espada then put Knight down and DeJesus jumped into the officer's arms.
As the victims settled into their sudden freedom, Gina's aunt, Sandra Ruiz, called on friends, relatives and the media "to give us time and privacy to heal."
Mayor Frank Jackson said Thursday afternoon that he had ordered his police and public safety officials to plug leaks of information in the case. Jackson said the order was not intended to conceal information, but "to demonstrate compassion for the victims and their families and to ensure the credibility of our investigative process and to allow us to arrive at a just conclusion in this very difficult situation."
He would not elaborate, but suggested he was concerned about the dissemination of erroneous information through leaks.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin and Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY; Associated Press