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  • 27 July 2013, 10:24

Ohio Kidnapper Ariel Castro Accepts Plea Deal

The Cleveland man accused of holding three women captive in his home for about a decade has agreed to plead guilty in a deal to avoid the death penalty.

In exchange, prosecutors recommend Ariel Castro be sentenced to life without parole plus 1,000 years.

Castro was in court on Friday morning to enter the guilty plea.

When asked if he understood he would never be released from prison, Castro said: "I do understand that, your honour."

He added: "I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me."

Castro was far more interactive than in previous court appearances when he mostly kept his head down and eyes closed.

During Friday's hearing, he answered the judge's questions in a clear, intelligible voice, saying he understood the proceedings and that he would never be released from prison.

Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico, said he could read and understand English well but had trouble with comprehension.

"My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind," Castro told judge Michael Russo.

He later said he had been a sexual abuse victim as a child, but the judge cut him off, telling Castro he would have an opportunity to speak at his sentencing hearing.

The three women Castro held hostage - Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight - said they were satisfied and relieved their former captor would remain behind bars for the rest of his life.

"Amanda, Gina, and Michelle are relieved by today's plea," the three women said in a statement released by the law firm Jones Day.

"They are satisfied by this resolution to the case, and are looking forward to having these legal proceedings draw to a final close in the near future."

Castro's plea deal comes more than a month after a statement issued on behalf of the women said they were "hopeful for a just and prompt resolution" and had "great faith in the prosecutor's office and the court".

The 53-year-old had been scheduled to go on trial on August 5, charged with 977 offences.

They included two counts of aggravated murder related to accusations that he punched and starved one woman until she miscarried.

The former school bus driver also was charged with hundreds of counts of kidnapping and rape, plus assault and other counts.

He was accused of repeatedly restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van.

The charges alleged Castro assaulted one woman with a vacuum cord around her neck when she tried to escape.

The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.

Each said they had accepted a ride from Castro, who remained friends with the family of one of the women and even attended vigils over the years marking her disappearance.

The women escaped from Castro's house on May 6 when one of them kicked out part of a door and called to neighbours for help.

Castro was arrested within hours and has remained behind bars.

News that  the women had been found alive electrified the Cleveland area, where two of them were household names after years of searches, publicity and vigils.

Castro fathered a six-year-old daughter with Miss Berry, authorities said.

They allege that on the day the child was born, Christmas 2006, Castro raped one of the other women, who had helped deliver the baby.

Miss Berry told authorities that she, her child and the other women never saw a doctor during their captivity.

Miss Knight said her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved and repeatedly punched her.

The three women recently appeared in an online video thanking the public for their support. They otherwise have tried to stay out of sight and have appealed for privacy.