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July 26, 2013

Cleveland kidnapper Castro takes LWOP+ plea deal sentence to avoid death penalty

The "settlement" value of the death penalty has shown itself again here in Ohio with the breaking news that "Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro accepted a plea deal today that sends him to prison for life plus 'not less than 1,000 years' with no chance of parole for abducting three women and keeping them as sex slaves for over a decade."  Here is more from this ABC News account of today's court proceeding:

"I'm fully aware and I do consent to it," Castro said at a hearing today in a Cuyahoga County court. The deal will spare him from the possibility of facing the death penalty. "I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me," Castro, 52, told the court.

The agreement as explained by prosecutors would sentence Castro to no "less than 1,000 years" in prison after completing a first sentence of life with no chance of parole. "You understand by accepting this plea, you're accepting life without parole," Judge Michael Russo asked Castro. "You'll never leave prison alive."

"Yes, I do," replied Castro.

The former school bus driver was accused of the aggravated murder of a fetus after forcibly causing an abortion in one of his victims that he is accused of impregnating. That charge would have carried the death penalty had he been convicted. He had previously pleaded not guilty to nearly 1,000 counts of kidnapping, rape and other crimes....

The victims, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus were discovered in Castro's home in May. They were abducted between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s. "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," attorney Kathryn T. Joseph said in a statement.

Prosecutors said if evidence of additional crimes came to light, Castro could still be indicted on future charges that included the death penalty. Castro said he was "willing to work with FBI and I would tell them everything" about his crimes. Wearing glasses for the first first time in court, Castro appeared more alert than at previous hearings.

He said he read and signed the plea deal and understood it although "my addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has taken a toll on my mind" that sometimes caused problems with comprehension. "I was victim as a child and it just kept going," Castro blurted out as an explanation for his crimes. But the judge cut him off, advising him to save his story for his sentencing hearing.

The judge still must accept the terms of the deal agreed to by lawyers and Castro, following a sentencing hearing where the victims may speak. The victims, through their spokesperson, had previously said they did not want to testify at a trial.

Though I suspect some die-hard death penalty abolitionists might take issue with my claim, I sincerely believe that the effective and efficient (and victim-helpful) final outcome in this case was made possible, at least in part, by Ohio having the death penalty on the books. I have a hard time seeing how it would be ethical for a defense lawyer to urge Castro to take a deal like this unless it involved eliminating the chance of a death sentence.  Of course, in a jurisdiction without the death penalty, there never is a chance of a death sentence.

A reasonable argument can be made that the costs and harms of trying to administer the death penalty ultimately outweigh the plea benefits that capital punishment can produce in cases like this. But I think a fair and honest debate about the virtues and vices of the death penalty must recognize cases like this one in which the death penalty would seem to here have done more good than harm for both the victims and society at large.

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Comments

A few observations.

First, Doug is a DP skeptic, but maintains a pragmatic outlook that helps keep this blog so invaluable.

Second, the DP was going to be hard to get under current law. There were going to be big problems proving that the fetus was viable.

Third, this episode proves as few others have done how grossly the Court got it wrong in Kennedy v. Louisiana. The amount of suffering, hopelessness and degradation these three women underwent at the hands of this creature really cannot be imagined by a normal person. Justice Alito's dissent rang true at the time and rings even truer today.

Fourth, this is one case in which deference to the victims deserved more than the usual weight, because their victimhood lasted longer, and was more grotesque, than in the run of cases in which the DP is sought. From the coverage I have seen, the victims were pretty strongly of the view that they did not want a public airing of what was done to them. Had I been the prosecutor, it would have been very difficult for me to go forward with a DP trial over their united opposition.

Fifth, while I normally have no particular feelings about defendants, this time I hope he rots. And I hope the deal includes a provision that any lawsuit he files from prison be automatically dismissed on receipt by the clerk's office. Does anyone want to hear more from this guy?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 26, 2013 1:11:18 PM

As Bill Otis notes, the death penalty was going to be hard to get here. I would go further. Without more, I think it would have been VERY hard to get. So, I question how much that really had to do with the plea deal. If it was allowed in cases of rape, it would be different.

Pleas like this are influenced by there being a death penalty. But, in this specific case, I question its relevance. It also is not that a strong abolitionist would disagree. They would suggest, like if legalized torture would influence it, it still would not justify the d.p. As to what "good" it would do, that's a big debate. Such options aren't just used in "really good" cases. Like torture, even if some "good" might come, the thing might still be wrong. We don't just look at best case scenarios when deciding whether to ban something. We can play "what about this case" for any number of things we ban.

Also, even with the plea, the article notes "Prosecutors said if evidence of additional crimes came to light, Castro could still be indicted on future charges that included the death penalty." Castro very well might feel (though like Otis, putting aside the fact he still is a person with basic rights, I'm not really desiring to think much about the guy) it was a lost cause. That a trial would be a waste. That he might get something out of the deal if we pled, including some sort of finality.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 26, 2013 1:26:29 PM

Joe: "Pleas like this are influenced by there being a death penalty. But, in this specific case, I question its relevance."

Then why did the rapist/murderer accept the plea like a bat out of Hades?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 26, 2013 1:50:14 PM

No worries, the boys in the joint will make sure he gets what he has coming to him. He may find that his role has reversed while in the slamer, for a while... Then someday this fair haired good old boy, is gonna bite the dust in a very slow painful manner...Just my opinion, they all will know he is arriving before he gets there...The party will be arranged for him....Good luck Castro and enjoy, you earned the party..

Hes absolutely nutso...I would have insisted on the DP...He has no idea of the hell that is ahead of him... Oh well, hes a big boy..And no, I don't want to hear from him or about him ever again..

Posted by: MidWest Guy | Jul 26, 2013 1:55:23 PM

Joe --

1. Twice you mention "torture" as a hypothetical punishment imposed by the state, all the while failing to mention even once the ACTUAL torture that went on in this case, to wit, ten years of it by the lovely Mr. Castro.

2. "We don't just look at best case scenarios when deciding whether to ban something."

And we shouldn't just look at the worst case scenarios either, but that's what you do. If we did, we'd ban prisons too, since people (inmates, guards, teachers, counselors, etc.) get killed by imprisoned inmates all the time, and the only certain way to make sure prison homicides (plus other prison abuses) don't happen is to abolish prisons.

So should we abolish prisons? I have never found a serious who thinks we should.

EVERY punishment has advantages and disadvantages, and EVERY punishment bears the risk of error, sometimes serious error. As I have shown here any number of times, the number of innocent people killed by errors in prison security vastly outstrips even the most extravagant claims about the number of innocent people who've been executed in anything like the modern era.

Intentionally killing people is almost universally accepted as moral IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES. I seriously doubt that executing Mr. Castro would be regarded as immoral by anything like a majority of people in this (or any) country. Indeed, I suspect (although obviously I can't prove) that even some of the die hard left-wingers who comment here would not have that much heartburn if Castro had been sentenced to death.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 26, 2013 1:58:59 PM

Adamakis, I offered possibilities on why a plea deal might be accepted.

Bill, his crimes are well known, including as cited by the OP, so repeating them is to my mind not necessary each and every time someone comments on the case. As to the second point, sure, we take a total cost/benefit analysis. Your comments have a generic feel to them. federalist might complain. Better watch out.

BTW, not only "left wing" types oppose the death penalty.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 26, 2013 2:54:42 PM

Out of curiosity, why are some offenses not just LWOP, but many include ridiculous sentence lengths, such as "life plus one thousand years?" I am curious as to why such sentencing is even considered, as sentences should reflect a rational, non-emotive response to a crime? Life without parole is a specific, final sentence that means no release, ever. Why not just say "life plus a MILLION years," it has just as much rational validity.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jul 26, 2013 3:12:28 PM

Joe --

I'm not sure what a "generic feel" is, but let me cut to the chase: Do you agree that we shouldn't look only at worst case scenarios in deciding whether to keep the DP? Do you agree that intentionally killing people is moral in some circumstances?

If your answer is yes -- and the logic of your position commits you to "yes" -- then the question whether to retain the DP simply comes down to differing calculations of costs and benefits. And that in turn drains the abolitionist side of its principal moral anthem, to wit, the myopic cry that we might execute an innocent person.

The answer is: Yes, we might, but that possibility does not end the inquiry. The future (and past) SAVING of innocent life accomplished by executing stone-cold killers must also be taken into account.

Until it is, the -- how shall I say this -- "generic" cry that WE MIGHT EXECUTE THE INNOCENT is, in addition to its off-the-shelf quality, just sophomoric. It doesn't even begin to engage the counter-arguments. It's really just foot-stomping.

BTW, not only "right-wing" types support the DP, see, e.g., Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 26, 2013 3:28:56 PM

Prof. Otis: "I seriously doubt that executing Mr. Castro would be regarded as immoral
by anything like a majority of people in this
…"

Granted at this moment, but for moral evolutionists, time is the "hero of the plot"!
What about Willingham? Coleman? more?
Has not Georgia begun, in recent years, to execute multiple innocent or incompetent victims as you and I trifle?

If you were to bequeath to the Machiavellians 10-20 years hence – perhaps even after the theoretical execution -
mightn't they have convinced a solid but benighted block that Castro were an innocent victim of racism,
railroading, ineffective counsel, unproven guilt, ad nauseum?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 26, 2013 4:16:10 PM

Is Castro a white Hispanic?
If not, this is just another
attack on our black and brown
brothers by a system of injustice
perpetuated by a racist, patriarchal,
and homo/bi/tri/trans/searching/unsure-
(a)phobic cabal of desperate euro-white males.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jul 26, 2013 4:22:47 PM

this question is easy to answer Eric!

"Out of curiosity, why are some offenses not just LWOP, but many include ridiculous sentence lengths, such as "life plus one thousand years?" I am curious as to why such sentencing is even considered, as sentences should reflect a rational, non-emotive response to a crime? Life without parole is a specific, final sentence that means no release, ever. Why not just say "life plus a MILLION years," it has just as much rational validity.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jul 26, 2013 3:12:28 PM"

DA's and Judges both like to shoboat for the masses. A simple "I sentence you to prison for the rest of your natural life" would work fine. But just doesn't have the GOTCH the other has!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 26, 2013 5:59:49 PM

Just curious, why is a plea "efficient" in this case? Was this going to be a hard case to prove (at least as to kidnapping and rape)? What was the source of reasonable doubt?

Posted by: ashah | Jul 26, 2013 7:21:16 PM

I'm curious. Why has Europe outlawed capital punishment? Why is it not practiced in Canada or Mexico or Australia either? Why are many countries also now coming to believe that life without parole is inhuman? Do they have people like Mr. Castro in Europe? Or Canada?

Posted by: Liz McD | Jul 27, 2013 1:32:45 AM

"But I think a fair and honest debate about the virtues and vices of the death penalty must recognizes cases like this one in which the death penalty would seem to here have done more good than harm for both the victims and society at large."

This is a great idea. In calculating damages, one should add up the benefits and deduct them from damages. Say, I infringed on a patent. However, I popularized the product, by advertising, and increasing public awareness. A value should be placed on that benefit to the patent holder, and deducted from the damages. In this case, the presence of the death penalty in sentencing law, saved the tax payer a multi-million dollar trial, spared the victims testimony, and repetition of very painful memories.

On the other hand, LWOP is an immune license to kill in prison.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 27, 2013 8:07:46 AM

On the other hand, LWOP is an immune license to kill in prison.

One has to add, in the absence of a death penalty available to prosecutors, another benefit to add to Prof. Berman's point.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 27, 2013 8:10:19 AM

Liz: Why abolish the death penalty?

Why is Europe so socialist? The government worker loves the criminal because he generates so many government jobs. They hate the victim because the victim generates nothing but extra paper work. Try reporting a rape at a police station. They throw you out. You will make them work, and you will make them explain why crime rates have gone up in their jurisdiction.

The Rent Seeking Theory is the bast explanation for all anomalous lawyer behavior. However, no one will ever be candid enough to say it. They will instead say, Europe got a sour taste for government sponsored death penalty after the racial cleansing and mass genocides it underwent in its history.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 27, 2013 8:17:04 AM

If the victims refuse to testify due to sensationalism, could he have walked, arguing consent? And, that is the prosecutor made the offer.

Posted by: Suptemacy Claus | Jul 27, 2013 2:38:01 PM

Supremacy Claus: So, the death penalty and capitalism go together? The lack of a death penalty equates with socialism?

Posted by: Liz McD | Jul 27, 2013 2:57:43 PM

I called the plea efficient, ashah, in part because it was entered barely two months after an arrest and just over a month after a formal indictment. There are many simple buy-and-bust drug cases that do not get resolved this quickly, and I would not be surprised if the average child rape case often takes years to resolve. Of course, as you note, the evidence of guilt here was rock solid. But Castro, especially if an LWOP sentence was the worst he could get, could surely have dragged this out and added to the pain of the victims if he wanted and if he saw little benefit from a plea deal.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jul 27, 2013 6:20:11 PM

liz: Socialism and Communism executed 100 million people and still failed to persuade. The left believed in the death penalty for dissent, has zero tolerance for diversity, puts it against a wall, and shoots it.

The Rent Seeking Theory is completely non-partisan since all sides engage in it. Lobbyists petition government to transfer tax funds to a special interest group, and the public gets nothing of value in return. If you get a well used road, or police protection, that is profit seeking.

The lawyer profession eliminates the death penalty, ad preserves the worst of the worst. So what is needed for safety in prison with such extreme predators? Staffing. Many government make work jobs for high school dropouts making $75,000 a year, getting all the sex they want from female prisoners, andpaying off politicians.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 27, 2013 11:42:20 PM

The following is a link for an article from BBC News, dated July 31, 2013, pertaining to the Cleveland Kidnapper titled "Why are some prison sentences so long?"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-23495284

Posted by: Mario A. Machado | Aug 1, 2013 1:43:24 PM

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