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Castro Sentenced To Life In Prison; House Of Horrors Revealed In Chilling Photos

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CLEVELAND (AP) - The Ohio man convicted of holding three women captive in his Cleveland house over a decade and raping them repeatedly has been sentenced to life without parole.
    
Fifty-three-year-old Ariel Castro was being given his sentence Thursday. He had pleaded guilty to 937 counts including aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape and assault.
    
He got the life term for the most serious count and was getting additional time for the hundreds of other counts.
    
A plea deal struck last week spared him from a possible death sentence for beating and starving a pregnant victim until she miscarried.
    
The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
    
They escaped to freedom May 6 when one of them, Amanda Berry, broke out part of the door to Castro's house and yelled to neighbors for help.

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CLEVELAND (AP) - The man convicted of imprisoning three women in his Cleveland home for a decade has apologized to his victims but also claims most of the sex was consensual.
    
Ariel Castro says he isn't a monster. He says he's sick and addicted to pornography. He says he didn't even plan the first kidnapping.
    
He says he knows what he did was wrong, but that he's not a violent person and that his captives asked for sex and weren't tortured.
    
The women described horrific conditions in the home, which Castro turned into a jury-rigged prison.
    
Castro spoke during his sentencing hearing Thursday where a judge could order him to serve life in prison plus 1,000 years.
    
The 53-year-old Castro pleaded guilty last week to 937 counts.

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CLEVELAND (AP) - One of the victims of convicted Cleveland kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro says at his sentencing hearing that she cried every night and that her years in captivity and "turned into eternity."
    
Michelle Knight's appearance is the first time she's been seen publicly since her rescue from the house where she was held captive for 10 years.
    
She says she spent 11 years in hell and that Castro's hell is now beginning.
    
The 32-year-old Knight was the first woman abducted by Ariel Castro in 2002 after he lured her into his house with the promise of a puppy for her son.
    
Castro has pleaded guilty to charges that he repeatedly raped Knight and two other victims, and also forced Knight to miscarry after he impregnated her.

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NBCNEWS.COM - Prosecutors revealed chilling photos from inside Ariel Castro's Cleveland house of horrors at a sentencing hearing on Thursday, showing a house modified on the inside to keep his captives in and the rest of the world out.

Some of the photos showed the bedroom, including stuffed animals and other children's toys, where captive Amanda Berry and her daughter spent much of their time, FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke said. Others showed chains hanging from walls where two of the women endured their nightmarish captivity.

Handcuffed and in an orange prison jumpsuit, a bearded Castro appeared to smile as he entered the courtroom where he could come face to face again with the three women he has admitted imprisoning for a decade in his Cleveland home.

Asked by the judge whether he would like to speak, Castro said he "would like to apologize to the victims," before saying he would save further comments until later in the hearing.

Prosecutors stood ready to use a model of the confessed kidnapper's house of horrors and diary entries from victims to describe his atrocities at a sentencing hearing on Thursday, as witnesses including police officers and medical experts revealed the terrifying details – including that more than 90 pounds of chains, measuring nearly 100 feet, were recovered from the home.

The judge said the chains would not be displayed in court.

Castro, who pleaded guilty to charges related to his decade-long confinement of the women, stands to get life in prison plus an additional 1,000 years.

Cleveland Police Department Patrolwoman Barb Johnson was the first witness on Thursday. She was one of the first officers to arrive at Castro's house as Amanda Berry kicked through the front door of his house on May 6, and described entering the darkened house with a flashlight attached to her firearm.

She and another responding officer heard the "pitter-patter" of steps as they entered the house and went to the upper level. Then, a woman who turned out to be Michelle Knight emerged from the darkness.

Knight "launched herself" into the other officer's arms, Johnson said.

Detective Andy Harasimchuk of the Cleveland Police Department's sex crimes unit described how the victims were physically restrained for periods by Castro, and were chained and locked in rooms of the house.

The doctor who saw the three women after they were first removed from the house, Dr. Gerald Maloney, said the women were "very much emotionally fragile" when they first arrived at the hospital.

"All three of them looked fairly gaunt, all three of them related that they had been allowed minimal time outside the house at all," Maloney said. "They related information regarding sexual assaults to us and also to the sexual assault nurse examiner."

The interior of the house featured modifications that enabled Castro to keep the women in and inquiring eyes out, FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke said, including modified doors, extra partitions and the conversion of the dining room into a bedroom. A porch swing was positioned at the base of the stairs going to the house's upper floors as an obstacle, he said.

"There were a number of modifications to the interior of the home to fortify certain areas," Burke said. "There were divisions between spaces in the house that were again designed not only to make the house more secure for its occupants but also to hide, I think, the existence of additional rooms in the house."

Other photos showed the cluttered basement with its white center pole where the women were restrained "in the early stages of captivity," Burke said, as well as a laundry machine full of money. Investigators also found a note in which Castro wrote "I am a sexual predator," according to the agent.

Castro's victims said he played a version of "Russian roulette" with them, giving the women an unloaded revolver, pressing it against his head, and daring them to pull the trigger, said Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Deputy Dave Jacobs, who interviewed the man in the days after the women were freed. Castro told him he didn't specifically remember the incident, but said if the women said it happened, it probably had, according to Jacobs.

In opening remarks, Castro's defense attorneys objected to the presentation of any photographs or other exhibits to demonstrate the extent of their client's offenses. Attorney Craig Weintraub said that the highly unusual case has "facts that are incomprehensible" and that his client suffered from "significant, undiagnosed mental illness" that did not rise to the legal definition of insanity.

Court officials have said that the sentencing on Thursday could take as long as four hours, the Associated Press reported. Prosecutors, the victims, Castro and his attorneys will all be given an opportunity to speak.

A team of sheriff's deputies carried in a massive model of the home on Seymour Avenue where the women were chained, raped, and deprived of food and access to toilets and showers.

A sentencing memorandum filed by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty on Wednesday included accounts of how Castro abducted Berry, Knight, and Gina DeJesus between August 2002 and April 2004.

Knight "was spotted by the Defendant in need of assistance in getting to an appointment regarding her son," according to the sentencing memorandum. "The Defendant lured her into his vehicle with promises of a ride. The Defendant then took Ms. Knight to his home at 2207 Seymour Avenue and enticed her to go inside with promises of a puppy for her son."

The women's daily life was recorded in diary entries, which were reflected in the more than 900-count indictment against Castro.

"The entries speak of forced sexual conduct, of being locked in a dark room, of anticipating the next session of abuse, of the dreams of someday escaping and being reunited with family, of being chained to a wall, of being held like a prisoner of war, of missing the lived they once enjoyed, of emotional abuse, of his threats to kill, of being treated like an animal, of continuous abuse, and of desiring freedom," according to the memorandum.

At one point, from Aug. 23, 2005 to the end of October 2005, Castro "forced the three victims into the garage behind his house," the memorandum states. "For three days, they were kept physically restrained in a vehicle in the garage, while the Defendant had a visitor at his house."

If any of the three women tried to escape, the memo said, Castro would assault her and force the other two to watch. He sexually abused the women on a regular basis, according to the memo, and when one of these assaults resulted in Knight becoming pregnant, Castro starved and beat her in a successful her in a successful attempt to terminate the pregnancy. That formed the basis of the aggravated murder charge to which Castro pleaded guilty.

Berry became pregnant after another assault, and gave birth to a child without medical care.

A statement from Dr. Frank Ochberg, a clinical psychologist who is an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder, was attached to the sentencing memo and described how the women developed "Stockholm syndrome" over the course of their forced confinement.

"Little by little, you are allowed 'the gifts of life,'" Ochberg wrote. "You are like an infant, totally dependent on your mother for survival. As you receive these gifts of life, without consciously realizing what is occurring, you feel some warmth — even love — toward that life giver."

Castro's son Anthony Castro told the TODAY show on Monday that he did not think he would visit his father in prison.

"I think that if he really can't control his impulses and he really doesn't have any value for human life, the way this case has shown, then behind bars is where he belongs for the rest of his life," the son said. "I have nothing to say to him."

Berry, 27, made a surprise appearance at a Cleveland concert on July 27. The Cleveland police received a handwritten note from Knight, 32, this week in which she declared, "Life is tough, but I'm tougher!"

"I am overwhelmed by the amount of thoughts, love & prayers expressed by complete strangers," Knight said in the note, which was posted on a Cleveland police Facebook page and confirmed as authentic to NBC News. "It is comforting."

Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts including rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder. Prosecutors dropped 40 more counts that were considered redundant.

"He's never coming out except nailed in a box or in an ash can," McGinty said after Castro agreed to the plea deal on July 26.

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