Court jails man for life plus more than 1,000 years

Man found guilty of kidnapping, raping and torturing 3 women for a decade

A US judge jailed an unemployed bus driver for life plus more than 1,000 years on Thursday for the decade-long kidnap, rape and torture of three women.

Ariel Castro's vain pleas that he was not a violent man fell on deaf ears, as Judge Michael Russo accepted a plea deal that saw him convicted on 977 criminal counts.

In a rambling quasi-apology to his three victims, one of whom sat stonily in the courtroom, Castro claimed he had acted on impulse as a result of sexual addiction.

Chains found in an upstairs bedroom at the Seymour Ave. house are shown on a television monitor during the sentencing phase of Ariel Castro. (AP)

Castro pleaded guilty last week after prosecutors agreed to take the death penalty off the table.

Michelle Knight, who was snatched off the street in 2002 at the age of 20, welcomed the sentence, arguing that death would have been "so much easier" for her tormenter.

"I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning," Knight said.

Castro said that he still couldn't understand what had driven him to hold the three women captive, but insisted "there was harmony in that home."

"I am not a monster. I was sick," Castro said, insisting he was addicted to sex and pornography.

He also insisted the women were lying when they said he beat them, declaring "I am not a violent person."

"Most of the sex that went on in the house, probably all of it, was consensual," Castro claimed.

Russo had no interest in his excuses and sentenced Castro to 1,000 years in prison by imposing consecutive sentences on hundreds of charges.

"A person can only die in prison once," Russo said in passing the sentence, dismissing the idea that Castro was not a violent man.

"You pled guilty to that and by virtue of your plea, when you rape someone, that's what it means," he said.

"Sir, there's no place in this city, there is no place in this country and indeed there is no place in this world for those who enslave others, those who sexually assault others and those who brutalize others."

The case came to light after Amanda Berry, 27, managed to escape with her six-year-old daughter by calling out to a neighbor for help through a locked front door on May 6.

More than 92 pounds (42 kilos) of chains were found in the filthy, darkened home where the women were kept in locked rooms with boarded up windows.

Even more horrifying were the stories the thin, pale and bruised women told upon their release.

"The damage that was done was a life sentence," psychiatrist Frank Ochberg testified.

Lured into the car of a man they knew as the father of a friend or classmate at the ages of 20, 16, and 14, the women suffered violent beatings and repeated rapes.

They were fed just once a day and rarely given access to the bathroom, instead having to relieve themselves in plastic buckets that were "emptied infrequently," prosecutors said in a sentencing memo.

Knight was impregnated four times during her 11 years of captivity.

Castro terminated her pregnancies by starving her for days, feeding her rotten food and then kicking and jumping on her stomach, testified Detective Andy Harasimchuk, who interviewed Knight upon her release.

Berry was allowed to carry a pregnancy to term, giving birth in a plastic kiddie pool on Christmas Day, 2006.

Castro would sometimes toss money at his victims after they were raped, which they could then give back to him if they wanted something special from the store, FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke testified.

Cleveland police officer Barb Johnson testified about the shock and sheer joy the women expressed when they were finally freed.

As she searched the darkened house with a fellow officer shortly after Berry was able to escape they heard a "pitter-patter" of feet in response to their calls of "Cleveland Police."

When the sound stopped, Johnson shined a light on herself so the approaching woman could see they really were police officers, at which point Knight "literally launched herself" into the other officer's arms.

"Legs, arms, just choking him," Johnson said.

"And she just kept repeating: 'You saved us, you saved us.'"

Gina DeJesus, who was just 14 when she was abducted, was initially too afraid to leave her room, Johnson added.

Prosecutors said they relied on diaries kept by the women during their lengthy captivity for many of the 977 criminal charges lodged against Castro.

Berry initially addressed her entries to her mother. After learning of her mother's death, she wrote to soothe her mother's spirit in heaven.

The entries spoke of "being treated like an animal," of "anticipating the next session of abuse," and of "his threats to kill," prosecutors said.

The women also wrote of "dreams of some day escaping and being reunited with family," of "missing the lives they once enjoyed" and of their overwhelming desire for freedom.

DNA tests showed that Castro fathered Berry's child. He has repeatedly asked to see her, a request the judge deemed "inappropriate."

Police do not understand why none of the people who visited the unassuming house at 2207 Seymour - including Castro's family and girlfriend - realized what was going on there.

His victims have begged the media and public to respect their privacy and give them time to heal. In a statement last week they said they were "relieved" by the plea deal and "satisfied by this resolution to the case."

INSIDE THE HOUSE

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors also revealed images giving the world a glimpse of the house where the women were held captive.

Bedroom windows were boarded from the inside and doorknobs had been removed, replaced with locks.

The house was also configured in a way to make it more secure and hide the existence of extra rooms, prosecutors added.

Graphic images were presented of dirty mattresses dressed in chains, the wig the girls wore on the rare occasion they were allowed outside and the pole in the basement, which the women were chained too.

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