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Ariel Castro pleads guilty in kidnappings, agrees to life sentence without parole

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Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man accused of imprisoning and raping three women for a decade, pleaded guilty Friday and agreed to serve life without parole — sparing the city an agonizing trial and perhaps the women from reliving their nightmare on the witness stand.

Under a plea agreement, Castro will avoid the death penalty, and a trial that was to start in two weeks will be canceled. Castro agreed to a term of life plus 1,000 years in prison.

“He’s never coming out except nailed in a box or in an ashcan,” said Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor.

Castro must also forfeit the house that investigators say he turned into his personal torture chamber. The county plans to tear it down.

In a hearing that lasted more than two hours, Castro told the judge he was addicted to pornography and was once a victim of sexual abuse himself.

He pleaded guilty to more than 900 criminal counts, including kidnapping, rape and attempted murder. That charge was brought by Ohio prosecutors after one of the women told investigators Castro impregnated her and forced her to miscarry by punching her in the stomach.

Told by a judge that he would be classified as a violent sexual predator, Castro said he objected to the word “violent.” He said he understood that he was signing away his right to a parole hearing, and to any hope that he might get out of prison before he dies.

“I knew I was going to get pretty much the book thrown at me,” Castro told the judge, Michael J. Russo of Cuyahoga County court.

Castro, 53, was accused of abducting the women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — from the Cleveland streets between 2002 and 2004. They were freed in May after Berry broke partway through a door and screamed for help while Castro was out of the house.

Investigators say he beat them, raped them and sometimes chained them in the basement. Castro fathered a daughter, now 6, with Berry, authorities have said. On Friday, when he was asked by the judge whether he had anything else to say, Castro answered: “I miss my daughter very much.”

They will have the chance to address their admitted captor at a formal sentencing Wednesday.

The women said in a statement through a law firm that they were relieved and satisfied with the guilty plea, and grateful for the support of family and friends and for the $1.2 million that the Cleveland Courage Fund has raised to help them.

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“They continue to desire their privacy,” the statement said. “They do not wish to speak to the media or anyone else, and they thank people for continuing to respect their privacy as they grow stronger.”

The women broke their silence in a three-minute video July 9. In it, Knight said: “I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground.”

While they appeared poised in the video, McGinty, the prosecutor, cautioned Friday that it would take a long time for the women to fully recover from their decade of captivity.

“These ladies were held longer than the prisoners of Korea and Vietnam,” he said. “We are so impressed with their progress so far.”

Castro had pleaded not guilty July 17 at a hearing in which the judge had to ask him to keep his eyes open. Prosecutors said they were considering the death penalty but never announced a decision.