CLEVELAND (AP) — A man accused of holding three women captive in his home for about a decade pleaded not guilty Wednesday, and the defense hinted that it would like to avoid trial with a plea agreement if the death penalty were ruled out.
Attorney Craig Weintraub addressed the death penalty issue after his client, 52-year-old Ariel Castro, pleaded not guilty to hundreds of charges including rape and kidnapping.
Castro, dressed in an orange jail outfit with his hands and ankles shackled and a full dark beard grown in jail, kept his chin tucked on his chest through the brief court appearance. He didn't speak or glance at his two attorneys standing by his side.
Weintraub said the defense was working to avoid an "unnecessary trial" involving the death penalty. Current charges Castro faces involving an alleged forced miscarriage don't include death penalty specifications, but the prosecutor says that's under review.
"Mr. Castro currently faces hundreds of years in prison with the current charges," Weintraub said after the arraignment. "It is our hope that we can continue to work toward a resolution to avoid having an unnecessary trial about aggravated murder and the death penalty."
Joe Frolik, spokesman for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, said the defense remarks were under review.
The 329-count indictment returned Friday covered only the period from August 2002, when the first of the women disappeared, to February 2007. More charges could be filed.
A statement issued on behalf of the women said days like the arraignment "are not easy" and added: "We are hopeful for a just and prompt resolution. We have great faith in the prosecutor's office and the court."
The grand jury charged Castro with two counts of aggravated murder related to one act, saying he purposely caused the unlawful termination of one of the women's pregnancies. He also was indicted on 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious assault and one count of possession of criminal tools.
News that the women had been found alive electrified the Cleveland area, where two of the victims were household names after years of searches, publicity and vigils. But elation soon turned to shock as allegations about their treatment began to emerge.
The indictment alleges Castro repeatedly restrained the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. It says one of the women tried to escape and he assaulted her with a vacuum cord around her neck.
Later, he moved them to upstairs rooms where they were kept as virtual prisoners, according to investigators.
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