The Cleveland man accused of kidnapping three women and repeatedly raping them while he held them captive in his home for a decade had to be asked to keep his eyes open when he pleaded not guilty to a sprawling new 977-count indictment Wednesday.
A seemingly somnolent Ariel Castro entered his plea to the hundreds of new counts added to the original indictment. The 53-year-old man now stands charged with 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, and an half-dozen counts of felonious assault.
“Mr. Castro, would you please look at me, sir,” Judge Pamela Barker asked Castro at the arraignment hearing on Wednesday. “I need to make sure you understand what I am saying.”
The judge repeated the request later: “Mr. Castro again, you must look at me, sir. Can you open your eyes, please?"
“I’m trying,” responded Castro as he repeatedly lowered his head and closed his eyes throughout the court appearance.
Police rescued Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight on May 6 after Berry pushed her way through a barricaded front door with the help of a neighbor while Castro was not home. The new indictment encompasses 11 years of charges and includes two counts of aggravated murder. It incorporates the original indictment that only covered a period from May 2002 to February 2007.
The aggravated murder charges included in Wednesday’s arraignment cover “the unlawful termination of another’s pregnancy,” the prosecutor’s office said in announcing the charges.
Castro’s bail has been set at $8 million.
The three women Castro is accused of having kidnapped between 2002 and 2004 spoke out for the first time in a video released on July 9.
“I may have been through hell and back,” Knight said in the video, “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.”
Attorneys for the three women have said they would like to see the trial process, set to begin Aug. 5, wrapped up as quickly as possible. A judge has denied a request by Castro to see the 6-year-old daughter prosecutors say Berry bore in captivity.
“I’m getting stronger each day,” Berry said in the video released by the women, “and having my privacy has helped immensely. I asked that everyone continues to respect our privacy and give us time to have a normal life.”
First published July 17 2013, 10:05 AM