CLEVELAND — An Ohio grand jury on Friday indicted former school bus driver Ariel Castro on 329 counts, including aggravated murder, for the kidnapping, rape and imprisonment of three women in Cleveland.
Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry were freed on May 6 from Castro’s house, where they had been held for about a decade.
Castro is charged with aggravated murder for assaulting one of the women and impregnating her between November 2006 and February 2007 and forcing her to miscarry, according to the indictment. He could face the death penalty.
The charges issued by a Cuyahoga County grand jury include 139 counts of rape and 177 counts of kidnapping. The indictment includes some details about how the women were restrained during their ordeals, including that Castro at one point taped the legs and mouth of one of the victims and then chained her to a pole in the basement, with a motorcycle helmet on her head.
“Today’s indictments represent a first major step in the criminal justice process,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty in a statement.
He said the investigation is continuing — the indictments issued on Friday only cover the period from August 2002, when Knight disappeared, until February 2007.
Upon hearing news of the indictments, Jim Wooley, attorney for Berry and DeJesus, and Kathy Joseph, attorney for Knight, issued this statement:
“We have a great legal system plus confidence and faith in the prosecutor’s office and its decisions. Now, we need to stand back and let the judicial process unfold.”
Berry, 27, was freed along with her daughter by neighbors from the Cleveland house owned by Castro.
Berry had disappeared after leaving her job at Burger King in 2003, the day before her 17th birthday. Police say her child was fathered by Castro.
Cleveland police responded to Berry’s 911 call and found DeJesus, 23, and Knight, 32, in the house. DeJesus had disappeared on her way home from school in 2004, when she was 14.
The indictment said Berry was raped for the first time after she attempted to escape from the house. She and Knight were taken out of Castro’s house in the fall of 2005 to a van in his backyard for sexual purposes, according to the indictment.
Castro, 52, is in jail on an $8 million bond. He will be arraigned next week on the charges.
The county prosecutor’s office said it would consider whether the case is “appropriate” for pursuit of the death penalty.
Legal experts said the murder case will be complicated by a lack of physical evidence of the miscarriage and medical records. The case could hinge on whether Castro’s three victims testify about Knight’s treatment, experts say.
“There has not been a case tried like this in Ohio before,” said Michael Benza, senior lecturer at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
Benza said prosecutors may be using the possibility of the death penalty as “a bargaining chip” to avoid a trial, which might require the women to testify.
Ohio is one of 38 states to have a fetal homicide law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The law in Ohio makes it a crime to murder a person “who is or was carried in the womb of another.”
The most high-profile fetal homicide trial in the United States occurred in 2004, when Scott Peterson was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and unborn son and sentenced to death in California.