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June 12, 2013

Not surprisingly, early buzz about a possible plea for Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro

As reported in this USA Today article, headlined "Lawyer for Cleveland kidnap suspect hopes to avoid trial," an initial court appearance for Ariel Castro is already leading to talk of a possible plea in this high-profile case. Here are the basics:

The man accused of kidnapping and holding three women for a decade pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Cleveland to hundreds of criminal counts, but his lawyer said after the hearing that some of the charges "cannot be disputed" and that he hoped to avoid a trial.

Charges against Ariel Castro, 52, include murder, rape, kidnapping and torture -- and he could face the death penalty. Defense lawyer Craig Weintraub entered the plea in an arraignment that took about one minute. A pretrial hearing was set for June 19....

"We are very sensitive to the emotional strain and impact that a trial would have on the women, their families and this community," Weintraub said after the hearing. "Mr. Castro currently faces hundreds of years in prison with the current charges and it is our hope that we can continue to work towards a resolution to avoid having an unnecessary trial about aggravated murder and the death penalty."

A Cuyahoga County grand jury's 329-count indictment charges Castro, a musician and former school bus driver, with one count of aggravated murder for allegedly terminating one of his captives' pregnancies, 139 counts of rape and 177 charges of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felony assault and one count of possession of criminal tools dating from the time of the first woman's disappearance until February 2007.

County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty has said the investigation is still underway. Additional charges could follow in a superseding indictment. The indictment charges Castro as a "sexually violent predator" who committed the murder and rapes in the course of a kidnapping. Those charges are considered aggravating factors that call for stiffer penalties. The murder charge is tied to one victim's fourth pregnancy, the indictment said.

"A not guilty plea at this stage requires the prosecutor to continue to evaluate their case to determine whether medical and forensic evidence can actually support an aggravated murder conviction, for the death of a fetus, and whether the death penalty is warranted," Weintraub said after the hearing.

The County Prosecutor's Capital Review Committee will consider whether prosecutors should seek the death penalty if Castro is convicted. Castro, who was fired last year from his bus driver job, is being held in the Cuyahoga County jail on $8 million bail....

Police allege in the indictment that Castro chained Knight to a pole in the basement and raped her the day after he took her captive. He allegedly taped Berry's legs and mouth, sexually assaulted her after she tried to escape, chained her to a pole in the basement with a motorcycle helmet on her head, chained her to a radiator in the bedroom, and attempted to strangle her with a vacuum cleaner cord, the indictment says. He also allegedly chained and assaulted DeJesus.

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June 12, 2013 at 12:06 PM | Permalink


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The state can get LWOP even if the prosecutor is comatose, so why settle for that in a "bargain?" Has this defendant earned the ultimate punishment known to the law? You bet. The state therefore should make the effort to give it to him.

Whether he'll get the DP is a close question. Whether the state should at least make an effort isn't.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 12, 2013 11:35:37 PM

" Whether he'll get the DP is a close question. Whether the state should at least make an effort isn't. "

Hideous: The fact that the DP is considered a close question in this case.

Piteous: The fact that the state may not seek the DP.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 13, 2013 8:54:36 AM

Adamakis --

I share your fear, but in the end, I think it likely that the state will go for it. Why pay prosecutors at all if they won't do hard cases? A five year-old could get LWOP for this guy.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 13, 2013 10:51:14 AM

Why pay prosecutors? To go after those cases where it actually takes some work to prove guilt. Given the realities of our court system I would pretty much always prefer that a prosecutor accept an LWOP plea over seeking a death sentence, so long as the appeal waiver is tight enough.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 13, 2013 5:55:57 PM

Soronel --

The problem is that the defendant can sign the tightest appeal waiver ever seen, and still appeal 10 or 20 or 30 times, because there is no effective enforcement mechanism. Theoretically, the prosecutor could then demand a trial and the DP, but only theoretically. Once a decision is made to accept LWOP as "justice," that, as a practical matter, is the end of the ballgame.

In a just world, Castro would already be on his way to the death chamber. It's very, very hard to conceive of a more malevolent, sadistic, cruel thing to do to a human being than what he did to these three girls. And for ten years.

But in the legal world as it presently exists, it's going to take some work to get the DP. Fine. Work is what life presents. Indiana prosecutors, go earn your salaries.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 13, 2013 6:55:02 PM

The death penalty is tied to killing a viable fetus. The "malevolent, sadistic, cruel things" he did under the law as a whole is not death penalty eligible. I would be interested in the "medical and forensic evidence" possible at this stage that help show beyond a reasonable doubt that he murdered a viable fetus. As a past thread noted, we also have witness testimony, but that alone at this stage very well might not be enough to prove murder. Also, I wonder what the victims want. Some victims very well might not want to have to submit themselves to more testimony etc. if the guy is going to be locked away via a plea deal. It is not ultimately their call, as Bill Otis has noted in the past.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 14, 2013 12:10:35 AM

Joe: "The death penalty is tied to killing a viable fetus."
"confirmed in a police report obtained Wednesday by CBS News.... [Michelle] Knight told police, according to the report
[and according to indictment], that Castro impregnated her "at least 5 times,"
but that each time he would starve her for weeks and then punch her in the stomach to induce a miscarriage."

-- How about so many aggravators?

1."A friend of Knight's told CNN that 32-year old Knight bore the brunt of Castro's abuse and that she was his
"human punching bag".
"[S]uspect Ariel Castro hit Knight with a variety of objects, including hand weights. She has suffered vision loss, joint
and muscle damage, and other problems from her time in captivity.

Knight suffered from facial damage requiring reconstructive surgery and hearing loss in one ear because of the beatings
she told police Castro inflicted upon her. She lived in darkness for long periods. All three women were underweight,
the friend said.
Knight, 32, stayed in the hospital for several days after the other two women left."

2. "Barbed wire, rusty chains .. Chilling photographs reveal Ariel Castro's backyard where he left his 'instruments of torture'
Used for pain: 'hundreds' of chains .. pictured next to a pulley that he likely used to hang the chain from the ceiling like the girls told police he did for years."

3. "Ariel Castro pleads not guilty to abduction, rape, murder in Ohio case"
-- If [when] he is proven guilty, doesn't his claim of "not guilty" count against him?

"Ariel Castro willing to plead guilty to avoid death penalty, lawyer says"
-- says a lot

cbsnews.com; miaminewsday.com; edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1305/11/cnr.04.html

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 14, 2013 10:56:13 AM

Joe --

"The death penalty is tied to killing a viable fetus."


"The 'malevolent, sadistic, cruel things' he did under the law as a whole is not death penalty eligible."

Also correct, but they provide a strong and overwhelmingly supported (by the public, not defense lawyers) reason to seek the DP here. Talk about aggravators -- yikes. This case cannot reverse Kennedy v. Louisiana, but it can achieve justice despite Kennedy's perverse holding.

"I would be interested in the 'medical and forensic evidence' possible at this stage that help show beyond a reasonable doubt that he murdered a viable fetus."

So would I, and that's where the prosecutors should earn their salaries. As I was saying, anyone can do an easy case.

"As a past thread noted, we also have witness testimony, but that alone at this stage very well might not be enough to prove murder."

Perhaps, but the state might be able to come up with more. I would not prejudge the evidence.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 14, 2013 1:15:56 PM

The inducement of miscarriage is obviously depraved but if anything the harsh irony there is that it would be somewhat surprising that the pregnancy lasted long enough for the fetus to be viable when the death occurred. I don't think there is much doubt regarding "aggravators." And, like Bill Otis, I'm quite willing to trust the prosecution to examine the evidence more & see what they turn up.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 14, 2013 3:47:53 PM

Does the Ohio statute require viability?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 15, 2013 9:35:41 AM


Regardless of whether the statute does or not I would expect SCOTUS to impose such a requirement.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 15, 2013 10:40:57 AM

Soronel, a few years ago, I would have disagreed with you. I would have thought that simple modesty would have prevented it because there's really no logical reason to impose such a rule. But the Court has shown itself completely unashamed of putting rules out there that are based on nothing but the Court's view on how a criminal justice system should look.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 16, 2013 11:45:14 AM

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