Ariel Castro pleads to 1,000-year sentence after imprisoning 3 women as sex slaves for a decade

Castro avoids possible death penalty

CLEVELAND - Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro has accepted a plea deal that sends him to prison for life plus "not less than 1,000 years" with no chance of parole for abducting three women and subjecting them to a decade of rapes and beatings.

During a Friday morning hearing in Cyuahoga County court, a judge repeatedly asked the 52-year-old Castro if he agrees to the plea, which will send him to prison for the rest of his life.

"I'm fully aware and I do consent to it," Castro said. "I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me."

The 53-year-old Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts in a deal to avoid the death penalty.

The former school bus driver face two counts of aggravated murder related to accusations that he punched and starved one woman until she miscarried. He also was charged with hundreds of counts of kidnapping and rape, plus assault and other counts.

Castro, wearing glasses for the first time in court, was far more interactive than in previous court appearances when he mostly kept his head down and eyes closed. He answered the judge's questions in a clear, intelligible voice, saying he understood the proceedings and that he would never be released from prison.

Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico, said he could read and understand English well but had trouble with comprehension.

"My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind." He later said he had been a sexual abuse victim as a child, but the judge cut him off.

Near the end of the 2 1/2-hour hearing, the judge accepted the pleas and declared Castro guilty. Sentencing was set for Thursday.

The deal comes more than a month after a statement issued on behalf of the women said they were "hopeful for a just and prompt resolution" and had "great faith in the prosecutor's office and the court."

He was accused of repeatedly restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. The charges alleged Castro assaulted one woman with a vacuum cord around her neck when she tried to escape.

The sticking point on a plea deal had been whether the prosecutor would rule out the death penalty.

The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Each said they had accepted a ride from Castro, who remained friends with the family of one of the women and even attended vigils over the years marking her disappearance.

The women escaped Castro's house May 6 when one of them kicked out part of a door and called to neighbors for help. Castro was arrested within hours and has remained behind bars.

News that Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus and Michelle Knight had been found alive electrified the Cleveland area, where two of them were household names after years of searches, publicity and vigils. But elation soon turned to shock as allegations about their treatment began to emerge.

Castro fathered a 6-year-old daughter with Berry, authorities said. They allege that on the day the child was born, Christmas 2006, Castro raped one of the other women, who had helped deliver the baby.

Berry told authorities that she, her child and the other women never saw a doctor during their captivity.

Knight said her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved and repeatedly punched her.

The Associated Press does not usually identify people who may be victims of sexual assault, but the names of the three women were widely circulated after they disappeared, and they appeared in an online video thanking the public for its support.

The judge read their names in court Friday as the hearing was carried live on national cable news.

Since their rescue, the women have sought to stay out of sight and have appealed for privacy.