Perhaps a jury would have de- termined that Ariel Castro deserved the death penalty for the atrocities he committed in a house on Cleveland’s West Side, where the windows were shrouded for years against prying eyes.
It was a house where Castro kept three young women captive over a period of 10 years, raping them, impregnating them and inducing miscarriages in all but one case. Also imprisoned was the young daughter of Castro and one of his captives.
The death penalty would have been just, but it also could have been difficult to win and Castro would have had access to court-appointed lawyers who would have dragged the appeals out for decades.
Given the odds against Castro ever being executed for his crimes, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office reached a plea agreement that apparently satisfied his victims, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, and should satisfy the rest of us. It even met with the approval of Castro’s 31-year old son, who said he will not be visiting his father in prison. Which means he will never see his father alive again.
In a deal reached two weeks before Castro’s trial was to begin, he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of a 977-count indictment, including two charges of aggravated murder in connection with terminating the pregnancy of one of the women.
Life and then some
He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 1,000 years. Those 1,000 years may seem little more than symbolic, but they lift a weight from the shoulders of Berry, 27; DeJesus, 23, and Knight, 32, and their families. The plea bargain spared them the ordeal of testifying in court, and now they know they will never have to worry about Castro coming up for parole, which could have required them to relieve the horror of their captivity in a judicial procedure.
Castro, who is now 53, kidnapped Knight in 2002 when she was 21, Berry in 2003 when she was 16, and DeJesus in 2004 when she was 14. He robbed them collectively of about 30 years of their lives. He will now pay for that crime with all the remaining years of his life, however long that may be.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland community and much of the nation has responded to the needs of the three women and Berry’s daughter. More than $1 million has been donated to the Cleveland Courage Fund and individual trusts will be set up for Castro’s four victims. The women have all expressed a readiness to get on with their lives, but that will not be without its challenges. Money doesn’t solve all problems, but it can be a help in trying times.
The plea agreement contained one other novel provision. Castro signed over ownership of his house to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank. It will be razed, which will mean it will not become a macabre shrine to Castro’s depravity.
The women will never forget what they had to survive in that house. They need no reminders, only the support of family, friends and community to move forward. The first step was to give them justice, and with Castro now branded a prisoner for life, that has been done.