Thursday 20 November 2014

Ohio kidnap victim Amanda Berry: ‘Castro punched me in stomach until I miscarried’

Published 09/05/2013 | 14:25

A FORMER school bus driver accused of kidnapping three young women and raping them during a decade of captivity in his house was today ordered held on $8 million bond in an Ohio court, his head bowed and his face turned away from spectators.

It was the first time the dark-haired, balding Ariel Castro, 52, had been seen in public since his arrest on Monday following the escape of three women and a child from his house in a low-income neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.

In Cleveland Municipal Court, Castro was expressionless, his hands in cuffs before Judge Lauren Moore, who set his bond at $2 million for each of the women and the child who was born in captivity.

Castro's home "was a prison to these three women and the child," Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brian Murphy told the judge.

"Today the situation is turned on him," Murphy said. "Mr. Castro stands before you a captive, in captivity, a prisoner."

Castro had been formally charged on Wednesday with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. He neither spoke nor entered a plea during his initial court appearance on Thursday.

Castro kept his face turned away from the gallery that was crowded with media and spectators.

"He did not want to be on camera," his court-appointed lawyer, Kathleen DeMetz, said after the hearing.

She said Castro would need $800,000 cash to get out of jail.

"The man doesn't have any money," she said. "He clearly doesn't have that."

DeMetz told the court that Castro was unemployed. Castro was fired from his job driving school buses last November. Now he is on a suicide watch in jail and is expected to be held in isolation, the lawyer said.

The $8 million bond set by the judge was higher than the $5 million requested by the prosecutor during the proceeding. The judge also ordered Castro to have no contact with the victims or their families.

Officials said the three women were at times bound in chains or rope and endured starvation, beatings, sexual assaults and in the case of one of them, several miscarriages deliberately induced by their captor.

The imprisonment of the women and small child came to an end on Monday after neighbors, drawn to the house by cries for help, broke through a door to rescue Amanda Berry, whose disappearance in 2003 the day before her 17th birthday was widely publicized in the local media.

The recording of her frantic emergency-911 call that evening, declaring, "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm here. I'm free now," has been replayed countless times on television news broadcasts around the world.

Rescued with Berry, now 27, was her 6-year-old daughter, conceived and born during her confinement, and two fellow captives - Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004, and Michelle Knight, 32, who went missing in 2002.

Initially, Castro's two brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, were also arrested as suspects in the case but police said they were not charged after investigators determined they had no knowledge of the abductions or captivity of the women.

They appeared in court on Thursday morning on unrelated outstanding misdemeanor charges and were released.

Berry told police that her escape on Monday had been her first chance to break free in the 10 years that she was held, seizing the opportunity during Castro's momentary absence.

STARVATION AND MISCARRIAGES

It also became clear that Berry's pregnancy with her daughter was not an isolated incident, according to Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins, who based his information on a police report from the initial investigation and briefing by police department sources.

Cummins said one of the three women had suffered at least five miscarriages that Castro is accused of having intentionally caused by starving her for weeks and beating her in the abdomen. Cummins said he did not know which of the women it was.

Berry's baby was born in a plastic inflatable children's swimming pool on Christmas Day, 2006, authorities said. A paternity test will be conducted to determine the girl's father.

All three women were held in the home's basement for long periods, restrained with ropes and chains and occasionally starved, according to Cummins. Authorities have described the condition of the home as squalid.

Cummins said the victims were kept apart in the house until their captor at some point gained sufficient confidence in his control over them to allow them to mingle. While separated in the house, the three women were isolated in different rooms but were aware of the others' presence, police said.

Authorities said the women recalled leaving the confines of the house just twice during their captivity, ushered on both occasions into a separate garage on the small lot while disguised in wigs and hats.

The women also told police their abductions occurred when Castro offered them rides and they accepted, authorities said.

Cummins said much of their ordeal was recounted by the women as soon as they were freed.

"En route to the hospital there was just a flood of information shared by these victims immediately," he said. "One can only imagine the mental distress and eruptions of joy and emotions."

On Wednesday, after spending a day in seclusion following their hospital evaluations, Berry and DeJesus were each glimpsed by television cameras being whisked to join family members. Berry and her daughter were at her sister's house and DeJesus was at her parent's home where she lived before her abduction.

Neither Berry, who was last seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant, nor DeJesus, who vanished while walking home from school, spoke publicly.

But DeJesus, clenched in a tight embrace by her sister Mayra and hiding her face in a yellow hooded sweat-shirt, raised her hand in a thumbs-up sign to spectators chanting "Gina, Gina."

Knight remained in a Cleveland hospital, where she was listed in good condition.

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