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Courts and Crime


Castro victim says she's been freed, but his hell is just beginning
Michelle Knight says she'll help  other victims now; Castro insists in his statement he's "not a monster"
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA
and LYNDSEY SCHLEY


Reporter
Kabir Bhatia
 
Amanda Berry was kept in this room while she was held by Castro.
Courtesy of WKYC
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In The Region:

As expected, Ariel Castro has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole plus 1,000 years. Unexpectedly, the women he imprisoned the longest -- Michelle Knight -- confronted him in court. She told him she will overcome what he did to her and help others.

LISTEN: KNIGHT ON CASTRO'S SENTENCE

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(Click image for larger view.)

“You took 11 years of my life away and I have got it back," Knight told Castro. "I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that happened, but you will face hell for eternity.”

Castro's attorney, Craig Weintraub, says his client accepts responsibility, despite abuse he suffered as a child.

And in his statement, Castro said he apologized. But he also insisted his Seymour Avenue house had "a lot of harmony," and denied torturing the women. Rather, he said, he just wouldn't let them leave. He also claimed sex with the women he locked in the house for a decade was "consensual." DeJesus was 14 when she disappeared; Berry was 16 and Knight was 21.

During early testimony in the six-hour sentencing hearing, Castro occasionally rocked in his chair or chatted with his attorney. After a recess, and during victim-impact statements by Knight and representatives of the other two women -- Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus -- Castro sat expressionless, even when Knight told him,  "You will die a little every day" from now on. 

Lured to a house of horrors
Michelle Knight enters to courtroom for Ariel Castro's sentencing.In her statement, Knight recounted missing her son while in captivity.

Detectives say Castro lured Knight into the Seymour house with promises of a puppy for her son. Similar tales emerged in his abductions of DeJesus and Berry.

The women were frail and pale when rescued by Cleveland Police Patrolwoman Barbara Johnson. She was one of the first responders to arrive at the night of May 6, after Berry had broken free. Johnson testified the women were talkative during the rescue.

Det. Andy Harasimchuk of the CPD Sex Crimes Unit describes the method by which each woman was captured and restrained by Castro. Each willingly went with Castro and entered his house where he attacked and restrained them with chains. Harasimchuk was visibly shaken while recounting his interviews with the women.

The defense later briefly debated with Harasimchuk whether there is confirmation that Michelle Knight was ever pregnant. Allegations that Castro beat and starved her to force her to miscarry were the crux of the aggravated murder charges against Castro.

Joshua Barr with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations says he found a .357 Magnum at the home, which Castro used to play Russian roulette with his victims, and more than 90 feet of chains used to restrain the women.

Cuyahoga County deputy sheriff Dave Jacobs told the court Ariel Castro answered all his questions and described how he captured the women, and admitting to being a sexual predator. Castro told Jacobs he abducted the girls to satisfy his sexual needs.
But in his 16-minute statement in court, Castro challenged description of violent.

The real Castro?
During a recess, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty says Castro had teared up when asked to sign the deed for his house for demolition, adding "I don't understand why you have to tear my house down? I have so many happy memories there with Gina, Amanda and Michelle."

Ariel Castro was shackled during the sentencing.McGinty told reporters, "That's the real Ariel Castro."

The statement for Gina DeJesus came from her aunt and Amanda Berry's sister delivered hers. Knight said in her statement that they developed a special bond.

Castro's  defense attorney Craig Weintraub later called the victim impact statements "inappropriate," saying they should have been a private matter. He said the plea deal was intended to keep the grotesque details of the crimes from becoming part of the public record, which might one day be seen by the 6-year-old girl Castro fathered with Amanda Berry. But Weintraub also said his client's own statement showed him to delusional and unable to empathize with the women he abducted.

Cuyahoga County Common Please Judge Russo did say, when issuing his sentence, he would discard any statements meant to emotionally sway him. And he fulfilled the terms of a plea deal reached last week: Castro got a life sentence plus 1,000 years with no chance of parole.


More on Ariel Castro in court
In his testimony, Ariel Castro repeatedly denied he was violent.  He said he only abused his ex-wife because he "couldn't get her to quiet down" in front of their children.

Abducting and imprisoning DeJesus, Knight and Berry, he said, was only because he was driven by a sexual addition fueled by pornography.

Judge Russo closed by saying there is no place for someone like Castro in society, and then wished a smiling Michelle Knight well. 

 

LISTEN: CASTRO ON HIS ADDICTION
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(0:10)


"I'm not a monster," Castro says. "I did not prey on these women. I just acted on my sexual instincts because of my sexual addiction."


He spoke of his job as a school bus driver, his talent as a musician, and teared up when he said he didn't know why he held the women so long. He also claimed he's a good father to the 6-year-old daughted conceived when he raped Berry.

Michelle Knight looked listless and slightly annoyed during Castro's statement to the court, and Judge Russo thanked her for her restraint.

Castro himself argued with Judge Russo over whether or not Knight was ever actually pregnant. And he protested when the judge noted that his record included leaving a child on his bus while driving for Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He insisted he found the child while searching at the end of a shift, and that he was doing a good deed because the regular driver was off that day.

The school district eventually fired Castro.


The statements of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, as read in court:

Michelle Knight, read directly by her to Castro:

“To Judge Russo:
I would like to tell you what 11 years of my life was like:
I missed my son every day.
I wondered if I was ever going to see my son again--he was only 2 1/2 when I was taken.
I would look inside my heart and see my son.
I cried every night.  I felt so alone.
I worried about what might happen to the other girls and me every day.
The days never got shorter.
The nights turned into days.
The days turned into years.
The years turned into eternity.
I knew nobody cared about me.
He told me my family didn't care about me.  He tormented me constantly, especially on holidays.
Christmas was the most traumatic day because I didn't get to spend it with my son.
No one should ever have to experience what we went through.  Not even an enemy!
 
Gina and I were a team.  I never let her fall and she never let me fall.  She nursed me back to health when I was dying from his abuse.  My friendship with Gina is the only good thing to come from this situation.
We said we'll all get out alive some day and we did!”
To Ariel Castro:
I remember all of the times you came home talking about everyone else that did someone wrong.  You acted like you weren't doing anything wrong.  You said "at least I didn't kill you".  You took 11 years from my life, but I've got my life back!
I spent 11 years in hell.  Now your hell is just beginning.  I will overcome all that happened, but you're going to face hell for eternity!  From this moment on, I am NOT going to let you define me or affect who I am.  I will live on but you will die a little more inside each day as you think of those 11 years and the atrocities you inflicted on us.  What does God think of you hypocritically going to church each Sunday and then coming home to torture us?  The death penalty would be the easy way out; you don't deserve that!  We want you to spend the rest of your life in prison!
I can forgive you but I'll never forget.  With God's guidance, I'll prevail and help other victims who may have suffered at the hands of another.
Writing this statement gives me the strength to be a stronger woman and know that there are more good people than evil.  I know there's a lot of people going through hard times but they need someone to reach out a hand for them to hold and let them know they are being heard.
After a long 11 years, I am being heard and it feels liberating!”

 
Statement from Beth Serrano on behalf of Amanda Berry:
“My name is Beth Serrano.  I am Amanda Berry’s sister.
The impact of these crimes on our family is something that we do not want to discuss with people we don’t know.  Even if I wanted to talk about it, it is impossible to put into words.  For me, I lost my sister for all those years and thought it was forever.  And we lost my mother forever.  And she died not knowing. My mother and my sister, the two most loving people in the world.  It is impossible to put into words how much it hurts.
Amanda is not here today.  She is strong, beautiful, inside and out, and is doing better every day.  She’s not just my only sister, but the best friend I have and the best person I know.  She does not want to talk about these things.  She has not talked about these things even with me.  And she does not want other people to talk about these things. 
The main reason she does not want anyone to talk about these things, or be forced to talk about these things, is because she has a daughter.  She would like to be the person who decides what to tell her daughter, when to tell her daughter, and how to tell her daughter certain things.
When people say things and file things in court, it is public.  It gets written about and talked about.  By people we don’t know.  Amanda’s concern is that her daughter will hear about things, or read about things, said by the wrong people, the wrong way, at the wrong time.  Before Amanda thinks the time is right to tell her daughter.
My sister has asked me to say the same thing she has been saying since this case started.  Please respect her privacy.  She does not want other people to talk or write about what happened.  Now that there will be no trial, there doesn’t seem to be any reason at all why people cannot do what she asks. 
Amanda did not control anything for a long time.  Please let her have control over this, so she can protect her daughter.  She will do anything to protect her daughter.
She also asked me to say that she is grateful this case is over.  She wanted me to say thank you to people that have supported her and our family, including James Wooley, Henry Hilow, Heather Kimmel and everyone at the Jones Day law firm, the FBI, the Cleveland Police, the DeJesus family, the entire community and everyone else who’s continued to stand by our side.  We appreciate everyone’s support and kindness.
Thank you.”
 
Statement from Sylvia Colon on behalf of Gina DeJesus:
“My name is Sylvia Colon and I am a cousin and spokesperson for the DeJesus family.  We have enjoyed our low-key lives and pray we can continue to savor our privacy.
 
On behalf of my entire family, we would like to thank the Honorable Judge Michael Russo, Office of Prosecutor Timothy McGinty and staff, as well as the defense team for the accelerated resolution to the Castro case.  Today we will close this chapter of our lives.
 
Family members — we love you.  To our friends, neighbors, FBI, Cleveland Police, Attorney Henry Hilow and our attorneys at Jones Day, the great City of Cleveland and too many others to name— thank you and God bless you.  For nine long years you have been by our sides, encouraging and supporting us.  We shall never forget you.  You are now a part of our family.
 
To Ariel Castro’s family — we are saddened that you are burdened with this horror and will unfortunately forever be tied to these atrocities.  Please know that we do not hold you accountable and pray that you can one day be whole again.  Continue to love and support one another—we promise you that with this recipe you will be triumphant.
 
Our family recognizes it is not for us to judge or determine any punishment.  Only a higher power can do that.
 
Today is the last day we want to think or talk about this.  These events will not own a place in our thoughts or our hearts.  We will continue to live and love.
 
We stand before you and promise you that our beloved family member thrives.  She laughs, swims, dances, and more importantly she loves and is loved.  We are comforted in knowing that she will continue to flourish.  She will finish school, go to college, fall in love, and if she chooses, will get married and have children.  She is where we will continue to put in our energy.  She lives not a victim, but as a survivor.  Her insurmountable will to prevail is the only story worth discussing.
 
We ask that you continue to give her and our family privacy as we continue this journey back into society.
 
To Ariel Castro — Que Dios se apiade de su alma.” 

 

Statement from Kathy Joseph, attorney for Michelle Knight:
“Michelle is a warrior who has survived a long and brutal war.  She has emerged strong, courageous and determined.  Her optimistic outlook is remarkable.  Her resiliency and compassion are a testament to the strength of the human spirit and an inspiration to all of us who have come to know her.”
 
Statement from Jim Wooley, attorney for Amanda Berry and her family:
“Everyone should have a sister like Beth Serrano.  Everyone should have a sister like Amanda Berry.  And everyone should have a mother like Amanda Berry.  I see nothing but sunny days ahead for this family. 

I have literally run out of words to describe how remarkable Amanda, Beth and their family are.  When I say they are perhaps the toughest, strongest, most resilient people I have ever known, it still feels like a huge understatement.  Add to the mix the warmth, kindness and love in that household, and you're talking about something beyond perfect, beyond words. 

I feel humbled and privileged that I know them."
 
Statement from Henry Hilow, attorney for Gina DeJesus and her family:
“Gina is a survivor who is surrounded by a devoted family.  Through the years, her parents, Felix and Nancy, never surrendered to hopelessness.  Her parents knew there would be a day when Gina would return home.  On May 6, 2013, their faith prevailed and their prayers were answered.
 
Gina and the DeJesus family want to thank the public and media for protecting their privacy and trust that their privacy will continue to be respected throughout the healing process.  They are humbled by the love and generosity of the community.
 
Love is one of life’s greatest gifts.  Gina’s return home, into the loving arms of her family, is an immeasurable blessing.  It is priceless.”
 
 
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