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Cleveland man to plead 'not guilty' to kidnap, rape, murder: lawyer

Ariel Castro (L), appears in court with public defender Kathleen DeMetz (R) in Cleveland, Ohio, May 9, 2013. REUTERS/John Gress
Ariel Castro (L), appears in court with public defender Kathleen DeMetz (R) in Cleveland, Ohio, May 9, 2013. REUTERS/John Gress

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The Ohio man accused of kidnapping three women and holding them captive in his Cleveland home for a decade will plead "not guilty" to several hundred charges that also include rape and aggravated murder, his attorney said on Saturday.

Former school bus driver Ariel Castro was indicted on Friday on 329 criminal counts in connection with the imprisonment of Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27. The women were freed from Castro's house on May 6.

He is charged with aggravated murder in the assault and impregnation of Knight between November 2006 and February 2007 and forcing her to miscarry, according to the indictment.

Castro, 52, is being held in jail on an $8 million bond and is to be arraigned on the charges next week.

"The indictment is being reviewed and a ‘not guilty' plea will be entered at the scheduled arraignment," attorney Jaye M. Schlachet told Reuters.

The indictment issued by a Cuyahoga County grand jury includes 139 counts of rape and 177 counts of kidnapping. It includes some details on how the women were restrained during their ordeal, including that Castro at one point taped the legs and mouth of one of the victims and chained her to a pole in the basement, with a motorcycle helmet on her head.

The indictment covers only the period from August 2002, when Knight disappeared, until February 2007, and more charges are expected.

The aggravated murder charge stems from Knight's fourth pregnancy. According to a police report, Castro caused Knight to suffer at least five miscarriages by starving her and beating her in the abdomen.

Prosecutors said a committee will consider seeking the death penalty as a possible sentence after a complete indictment is finalized.

Schlachet said the death penalty is not warranted in Castro's case and should not be used to pressure his client into a taking plea bargain in lieu of a trial.

Ohio is one of 38 states to have a fetal homicide law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Legal experts said the murder case will be complicated by a lack of physical evidence of the miscarriage and medical records.

"It would be unprecedented to pursue the death penalty for an alleged death of a fetus, without the death of the mother," Schlachet said. "We remain hopeful that the prosecutor's office and the public understand and agree that a death penalty should never be used as leverage to attempt to obtain a plea bargain."

Berry was freed along with her 6-year-old daughter last month by neighbors from the Cleveland house owned by Castro.

Berry disappeared the day before her 17th birthday in 2003, after leaving her job at Burger King. Police say DNA tests prove that Castro is the father of her child.

Cleveland police responded to Berry's 911 call and found DeJesus, 23, and Knight, 32, inside the house. DeJesus was 14 when she disappeared on her way home from school in 2004.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Gunna Dickson)

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