CLEVELAND - When Ariel Castro walked out of the courtroom, sidestepping death row by pleading guilty of more than 900 charges and being sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years, most who heard his rambling statement thought that would be the last sounds heard regarding him.
"That's the last time we'll see him," said a colleague who monitored the situation with me from our newsroom. Privately, many wondered how long Castro would live in the prison environment, where convicts of such notoriety sometimes die horrible deaths at the hands of revengeful fellow inmates.
The prison system does not like to speak on such subjects, but it does occur, especially in some high-profile cases where children are the victims.
"Other prisoners know he is coming," said a Cleveland attorney well-versed in the subject. He noted men who violate the lives of children sometimes find themselves up against the wrath of other prisoners who take it upon themselves to mete out a "prison justice", which is just as illegal, unethical and immoral as any crime committed outside the walls of prisons.
When Castro's body was found hanging in his cell at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Reception Center in Orient, the surprise was death came at his own hand and came so early in his incarceration. Castro had not been permanently assigned yet to a facility. The possibility he might take his own life surely was on the minds of prison officials. Although he was no on an official suicide watch, Castro was being held in protective custody.
Castro was there, awaiting more psychological assessments and eventual assignment to a permanent prison. However, between scheduled checks by corrections officers, Castro was able to fashion his bedding into a noose that he put his own neck.
"There is an institutional failure beyond Ariel Castro and the citizens of Ohio are entitled to something better," said Castro's attorney Jaye Schlachet. "It's just sad."
We in the news business have talked with many people in the neighborhood where Castro held the three women captive for more than a decade. Some simply shook their heads in wonderment, baffled by the turn of events. Others went to social media to voice their thoughts on Castro, his suicide, justice, God's judgment, and a myriad of other aspects of thinking.
Some of the thoughts I have heard have been vile. Others have been well-conceived and sensitive, placing emphasis on the needs of Castro's victims instead of the victimizer himself.
"Our focus remains on the well-being of the survivors of Seymour Avenue," said Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. "It is our sincere hope that they will continue to heal and recover."
As to what Ariel Castro faces after death, I will leave that to theologians. Most of the theologians I know probably would leave such thought to a higher power.
At this time, my thoughts return to the court hearings where Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty waved the prospect of the possibility his team would seek the death penalty.
It had been forecast that McGinty would dangle the death penalty over Castro's head, pushing him to continue living, albeit it in prison for the rest of his natural life plus a millennium. That, indeed, was what happened.
In the end, Castro's sentence did not last that long. I will not call it justice or judgment. I will call it only what it was: suicide.
As I have done during this entire ordeal ever since the three women were found and who were brought to safety, I will continue to do. I will keep my emphasis on them and on their need to heal and recover. Life is for the living.