The 977-count indictment that accused Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro pleaded not guilty to on Wednesday is a catalog of the rape, torture, and brutality prosecutors say he inflicted on three women at his home on Seymour Avenue for over a decade.
The 576-page litany of alleged wrongdoings can also be a powerful way of showing just how seriously prosecutors are taking the case that shocked Cleveland and drew international attention to Castro’s front yard this past May, legal experts said.
“You don’t normally see indictments with this many counts,” said criminal defense attorney Tom Mesereau, who defended Michael Jackson during his 2005 child molestation trial. “I think the public is so upset about what this man did, the general feeling is they don’t want him to get away with anything. They want to describe and hold him accountable for virtually every unlawful act that has been presented to them by the three women.”
The charges enumerated in the document include two counts of aggravated murder, 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, a half-dozen counts of felonious assault, three counts of child endangerment, and one count of possessing criminal tools.
The state has not yet said it will seek the death penalty for the aggravated murder charges, but could do so in a superseding indictment. Prosecutors have not tallied the number of years Castro could face if convicted on the nearly 1000 charges against him, but his attorney Craig Weintraub has said he could face “hundreds of years in prison,” according to the Associated Press.
On Wednesday, Castro, a 53-year-old former school bus driver, had to be admonished several times by a judge to keep his eyes open during an arraignment — even though Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said he may seek the death penalty.
Castro is being held on $8 million bond pending an expected August 5 start to his trial. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against him.
The full indictment covers a time period spanning August 2002 to May 2013. Castro allegedly abducted Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Amanda Berry over those years, a horror story that ended when Berry broke through a storm door and escaped the house with the help of neighbors on May 6.
While some of the alleged offenses are given specific dates in the indictment, others – including hundreds of counts of rape and kidnapping with sexual motivation – are added up one per month per woman, and not tied to a specific event, according to the indictment.
“An indictment this large has an enormous psychological impact on the public and also on the defense camp,” Mesereau said.
And prosecutors likely could have tallied up even more counts if they had wanted to, said Robin Sax, a former Los Angeles county prosecutor. Prosecutors in Ohio likely struck a balance between matching public outrage in the indictment and listing every single action that could have been considered a sexual crime or kidnapping, Sax said.
"It kind of matches the magnitude of the crime," she said. "No one is going to say that this is unreasonable."
Some of the other charges in the indictment provide chilling hints at what prosecutors have learned about what may have gone on in Castro’s house during the years the women were missing.
The two counts of aggravated murder charges stem from an incident involving “the unlawful termination of another’s pregnancy,” according to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office. The purported offense is rendered into even more severe legalese in the indictment itself, alleging that “on or about November 1, 2006 to February 28, 2007,” Castro, “did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the unlawful termination of Jane Doe 1’s pregnancy.”
The last of the charges involve “possessing criminal tools” — a category that includes Castro’s home, a number of vehicles including four motorcycles, and a Ruger handgun — and three counts related to “endangering children.”
DNA tests in early May confirmed that Castro is the father of a 6-year-old girl born to one of the women born during their captivity, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. A Cleveland police report has said that the baby was born in a kiddie pool.
The police report also said that Knight told officers she was impregnated by Castro at least five times, but that he pummeled her in the stomach and made her go without food to force a miscarriage.
Castro has been denied visitation rights to the young girl during the trial process.