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Ohio victim describes her ‘11 years in hell’

Says defendant in abduction case deserves life term

Michelle Knight spoke Thursday in a Cleveland courtroom at the sentencing of Ariel Castro (seated in background).

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Michelle Knight spoke Thursday in a Cleveland courtroom at the sentencing of Ariel Castro (seated in background).

CLEVELAND — Three months after her rescue from a quiet house where she had been held captive for a decade along with two other women, Michelle Knight, 31, confronted her abductor, Ariel Castro, 53, in a courtroom here Thursday, offering an emotional last act to a traumatizing story.

“I cried every night, I was so alone,” said Knight, who was 21 when Castro enticed her into his home in 2002 with the offer of a puppy for her young son. “Days never got shorter. Days turned into nights, nights turned into days. The years turned into eternity.”

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Knight, who was held longer than the other women and was the only one who offered a statement at Castro’s sentencing, told him: “You took 11 years of my life away. I spent 11 years in hell.”

Knight let tears run freely while speaking of how her bonds with the other kidnapped women, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, gave her a sliver of hope. “We said we would someday make it out alive, and we did,” Knight said.

Castro, an unemployed bus driver, looked on without expression. Judge Michael J. Russo of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court sentenced him to life in prison without possibility of parole, and 1,000 years. The punishment was the result of a plea deal between Castro and prosecutors that allowed him to avoid a possible death sentence.

In a rambling statement of his own, Castro denied that he was violent or had ever raped or beaten Knight or the other women. “People are trying to portray me as a monster and I’m not a monster, I’m just sick,” he said.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Timothy J. McGinty, told the court that experts had found no indication Castro was mentally ill, adding that his effort to blame others, including the victims, was evidence of a lack of remorse that merited the maximum prison sentence.

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New details of how the women were taken, held, and managed to endure emerged in a sentencing memo, and at the four-hour hearing Thursday, which was broadcast live by cable television, reflecting the worldwide attention the case has drawn.

All three victims were acquaintances of Castro’s children. He attended vigils on the anniversaries of the women’s disappearances, brought home a “missing” poster as a trophy, and forced the women to watch television coverage of their grieving families.

He overheard his first victim, Knight, asking for directions at a Dollar Store and offered her a ride, which she said she accepted because she knew his daughter. Once inside his home on the west side of Cleveland, he tied her with an extension cord and forced her to the basement, where he placed a motorcycle helmet over her head before raping her, said Detective Andy Harasimchuk of the Cleveland police’s sex crimes unit.

Eight months later, in April 2003, Castro abducted Berry, then 16. He offered her a ride to his house with the promise of meeting his daughter, whom she knew. He chained her to a pole in the basement.

DeJesus, his third victim, was 14 at the time of her kidnapping in 2004. Castro enticed her into his car by asking for her help in finding his daughter, a friend of hers.

Sheriff’s deputies displayed a model of Castro’s home that from one angle looked as innocent as a dollhouse. But turned around, it was used to illustrate a chamber of horrors. Castro sealed windows with closet doors and drapes. The women were locked in two rooms on the second floor, sometimes restrained by chains. Castro fed them a single meal a day and forced them to use plastic toilets in their rooms.

He kept them “in a state of powerlessness,” prosecutors said, “through a program of prolonged physical, sexual, and psychological violence.” As punishment, he would confine them in the cold basement or the sweltering attic.

A psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Ochberg, testified that the women suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, “the kind of trauma that you don’t escape for years and sometimes for a lifetime.”

Castro, who for years was able to present to friends and family an outward appearance of normalcy, denied the charges he had pleaded guilty to.

Knight said she wanted him to serve a life sentence in prison rather than face the death penalty. “I will live on,” she said. “You will die a little every day.”

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