A former school bus driver accused of kidnapping and holding three women in captivity for about a decade in his Cleveland home pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to 977 criminal charges.
A grand jury on Friday added 648 charges to a previous indictment against Ariel Castro, who is accused of abducting the first of the women in 2002 and holding them captive until they escaped from his house on May 6 along with a 6-year-old girl he fathered with one of the women.
During a brief court appearance, a lawyer for Castro, 53, entered the not guilty pleas and the judge kept in place an $8 million bond and an order that Castro have no contact with the three women and the child.
Law enforcement officials have said that the women, Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27, were kept bound in chains or rope for periods of time and that they endured starvation, beatings and repeated sexual assaults.
The most serious of the charges against Castro, two counts of aggravated murder under a fetal homicide law over allegations he forced Knight to miscarry, could potentially carry a death sentence if prosecutors choose to pursue it.
According to the indictment, Knight was pregnant at least three times from September 2002 to December 2003.
Castro is charged with kidnapping the three women from 2002 to 2004 and brutalizing them over the next 10 years. He is also charged with kidnapping the 6-year-old girl and three counts of endangering her.
In Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday, Castro's lawyers waived a reading of the full indictment, which also includes 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, six counts of felony assault, and one count of possessing tools such as a Ruger handgun used to aid in the crimes.
Judge Pamela Barker summarized the charges against Castro. When she asked if he understood the charges, Castro replied, "yes." Barker several times told Castro, who was wearing orange prison clothes, to raise his head and to open his eyes.
DNA evidence has confirmed that Castro was the father of the girl, who was born to Berry. At a court appearance in early July, Castro asked to be allowed jail visits from his daughter. A judge rejected the request immediately as "not appropriate."
Castro has not sought to delay the start of his trial, which is scheduled for Aug. 5. (Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Greg McCune and Grant McCool)
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