By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) – The Cleveland bus driver who abducted, imprisoned and repeatedly raped three women was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison without parole, after one of his victims confronted him and said he had put her through 11 years of hell.
Ariel Castro, 53, apologized to his victims, but was mostly defiant at a court hearing during which he verbally sparred with the judge and blamed his actions on abuse as a child and a sexual obsession.
“I am not a monster,” he told the court during a rambling statement before sentencing.
The women were rescued from his fortress-like house on May 6 after 9 to 11 years in captivity, along with a 6-year-old girl he fathered with one of the women while she was his captive.
“If you asked my daughter she would say, my dad is the best dad in the world,” Castro said.
“All the sex was consensual,” Castro told the judge. “The girls were not virgins. They had multiple sex partners before me.”
Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo described Castro as suffering from “extreme narcissism,” and said the crimes were so extreme that the former school bus driver should never emerge from prison. Castro had pleaded guilty to hundreds of charges including murder under a fetal homicide law for beating and starving victim Michelle Knight to force her to miscarry.
When Russo mentioned the murder charge in court, Castro said he was not a violent person and that he had pleaded guilty to murder only to spare the victims a long legal process.
“I am not a murderer,” said Castro, whose legs were shackled.
The full sentence was life without parole plus 1,000 years, ensuring that Castro would never leave prison.
Knight, 32, made a dramatic appearance in court before the sentencing and read a written statement that said Castro had persecuted her beginning with her abduction in 2002 until she was freed on May 6, 2013.
“Days turned into nights, nights turned into days. Years turned into eternity. I knew nobody cared about me. He told me that my family didn’t care,” Knight said, choking back tears.
“I spent 11 years of hell. Now your hell is just beginning,” Knight said of Castro.
Judge Russo praised Knight for showing admirable “restraint” in her remarks. “You’re welcome,” she said.
Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Knight went missing from the west side of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004. They were discovered after people heard Berry’s cries for help from Castro’s home.
Neighbors helped Berry break out a door and she then dashed back into the house to get her daughter, who had been born in the house with the Knight’s assistance on Christmas Day.
The child had a “normal” life, Castro said, adding that she never saw the women in chains.
Castro only became emotional when he spoke of the girl, who he described as his “miracle child.”
“I heard I can file for parental rights,” Castro told the judge. Russo told Castro that he would not be allowed any contact with the girl.
Earlier in the hearing, prosecutors presented graphic evidence of the crimes, including a dollhouse-size replica of the house where he imprisoned the women.
They showed photos of Berry and DeJesus, gaunt and pale, soon after they were rescued. Photos of the interior of the house showed chains, windows boarded up from the inside, doors with locks on the outside and heavy curtains separating parts of the house.
A female police officer who arrived at the house immediately after Berry was freed, said the house was so dark she had to shine a light to climb the stairs. When Knight realized that the police were there to rescue her, she threw herself into the arms of a policeman. DeJesus was so terrified she had to be coaxed out of a nearby room.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Gunna Dickson, Toni Reinhold)