CLEVELAND - Ariel Castro pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated murder, kidnapping and rape on Friday in the case of three Cleveland women kept in his Seymour Avenue house for roughly a decade.
Castro agreed to plead guilty to 937 counts in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 1,000 years.
Earlier this month, the 53-year-old was indicted on 977 counts, including two counts of aggravated murder for intentionally causing one of his victims to miscarry a pregnancy. Forty counts were merged to come to the final number of 937.
The plea deal spares the victims from reliving their time in captivity during a lengthy trial.
In court, Castro, wearing glasses for the first time and attentively responding to questions, told the judge he has "sexual problems" which prevent him from understanding some things.
"My addiction to pornography and sexual material has taken a toll on my mind," Castro said, later calling himself a "victim as a child."
The judge told Castro he will be labeled as a "sexually violent predator," though Castro said he does not agree with the use of the term "violent."
Castro was aware of the consequences of his actions saying, "I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me." Despite his acceptance of the plea deal, Castro said multiple times he did not agree with the wording of some provisions.
The Seymour Avenue home of Castro will be transferred to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty made clear his intentions for the house.
"Judge, we're gonna tear down the house and look closely at everything that falls," McGinty said.
Castro argued there was more money in his home than a little more than $22,000, which will be forfeited. The judge asked the prosecution to investigate that claim. Castro's money will be used to tear down his home, as well as two neighboring vacant homes on Seymour Avenue, McGinty said.
On May 6, Amanda Berry, who had been missing since 2003, broke free from Castro's house with her 6-year-old daughter. When officers arrived, they found Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight also inside the home.
"I've been kidnapped. I've been missing 10 years. I'm here. I'm free now," Berry told a 911 dispatcher.
Castro was arrested a short time after and had remained in jail on $8 million bond.
The women ranged in age at the time of their disappearances from 14 to 20 years old, but all went missing separately from Lorain Avenue on Cleveland's west side. Castro kept them locked in separate rooms, and the victims had to slide things through holes cut in the doors.
Authorities said Castro fathered Berry's 6-year-old and forced her to give birth in a small swimming pool in his basement. At the end of Friday's hearing, Castro said, "I would just like to say that I miss my daughter very much."
Castro, a former bus driver for Cleveland Metropolitan School District, was fired in November after leaving his bus unattended. Even while keeping DeJesus locked up in his house, he stayed friends with her family, even attending vigil held in her honor.
Since regaining their freedom, Berry, DeJesus and Knight have asked for their privacy as they reconnect with family members and adjust to their new lives. Just weeks ago, they released a video thanking the community for donating to the Cleveland Courage Fund.
Attorneys for the women issued the following statement on their behalf:
"Amanda, Gina, and Michelle are relieved by today's plea. They are satisfied by this resolution to the case, and are looking forward to having these legal proceedings draw to a final close in the near future. They continue to desire their privacy. 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. They are immensely grateful for the support they have received from family, friends, and the donations to the Cleveland Courage Fund."