A grand jury has indicted Ariel Castro on 329 charges related to imprisoning three young women for more than a decade at his home in Cleveland, Ohio. The charges include two counts of aggravated murder, 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious assault, and one count of possessing criminal tools. Castro may face the death penalty for the aggravated murder charges, which stem from killing his unborn children.
Michelle Knight, 32, allegedly lost five unborn babies to Castro’s brutality. He starved her for at least two weeks and “repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried,” authorities said. The two charges for aggravated murder come from the loss of Knight’s fourth child between 2006 and 2007.
Amanda Berry, 27, gave birth to a baby girl, now 6, under threat of death. Castro allegedly forced Berry to give birth in an inflatable pool without any medical help. When the child stopped breathing, Berry revived her through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim J. McGinty said at a news conference on May 9 that capital punishment must be reserved for crimes that are truly the worst examples of human conduct: “The law of Ohio calls for the death penalty for those most depraved criminals, who commit aggravated murder during the course of a kidnapping.”
Ohio enacted a fetal homicide law in 1996, making it illegal to kill or injure a viable fetus: “No person shall purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another’s pregnancy” (ORC 2903.01).
Now that the grand jury has indicted Castro for aggravated murder, McGinty will be able to push for the death penalty. Many experts agree that such punishment is possible for Castro, although not without legal fights starting with constitutional questions over the definition of a murder victim for the purpose of a death penalty case.
Defense lawyer Craig Weintraub told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, “It would be unprecedented to pursue the death penalty for the alleged death of a fetus, without the death of the mother. We are hopeful that the prosecutor’s office and the public understand and agree that the death penalty should never be used as leverage to attempt to obtain a plea bargain.”
The fact that no human remains of any kind were found on the property adds complications: “How does the prosecution prove a pregnancy? How do you prove that Castro caused the termination of the pregnancy?” said Michael Benza, a Case Western University law professor who has also represented death row clients.
The nature of the crime makes it likely that, death penalty or not, Castro would face a life sentence if convicted on rape charges alone, said Hofstra University law professor and death penalty expert Eric M. Freedman.