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Ohio captor who held 3 for years kills self

Castro found hanging in cell; deal had averted a death sentence

Ariel Castro had been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

TONY DEJAK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ariel Castro had been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ariel Castro, who held three women captive in his home for nearly a decade, committed suicide Tuesday at a state prison facility, Ohio corrections officials said.

Castro, 53, was found hanging in his cell around 9:20 p.m. at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, said spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. Prison medical staff performed CPR before Castro was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

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The three women Castro was accused of kidnapping and abusing disappeared separately in Cleveland between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 21 years old.

They escaped May 6, when one of the women broke part of a door and yelled to neighbors for help. Castro, an unemployed bus driver, was arrested that evening.

The women described moments of harrowing brutality through years of numbing isolation. Prosecutors said Castro kept them “in a state of powerlessness, through a program of prolonged physical, sexual, and psychological violence.”

As punishment, he would confine them in the cold basement or the sweltering attic.

“I cried every night, I was so alone,” Michelle Knight said in a victim’s statement at Castro’s sentencing in Cleveland. “Days never got shorter. Days turned into nights, nights turned into days. The years turned into eternity.”

Knight, who was the first woman abducted, was 21 when Castro enticed her into his home in 2002.

Castro had agreed to plead guilty to 937 counts including kidnapping and rape. Judge Michael J. Russo of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court sentenced him to life in prison without possibility of parole, and 1,000 years.

A deal struck with prosecutors had spared him from a possible death sentence for beating and starving a pregnant victim until she miscarried.

In a rambling statement at his sentencing, Castro denied that he was violent.

“People are trying to portray me as a monster and I’m not a monster, I’m just sick,” he said.

Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico, had told the judge he could read and understand English well but had trouble with comprehension. He said he began to collect pornography early in his life.

‘‘My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind.’’

He also said he was a victim of sexual abuse as a child.

Federal and Cleveland police officials at the sentencing described the horrors in the ramshackle house that Castro turned into a jury-rigged prison on the city’s west side.

The FBI said Castro created a makeshift alarm system and chained the women inside their bedrooms. Bedroom windows were boarded shut from the inside with heavy closet doors, and doorknobs had been removed and replaced with multiple locks.

Cleveland police detective Andrew Harasimchuk said that the women — Knight, Gina DeJesus, and Amanda Berry — all described being physically, sexually and emotionally assaulted for years. He said all three women were abducted after Castro offered them a ride and that each was chained in his basement and sexually assaulted within a few hours of being kidnapped.

Castro repeatedly starved and beat one of the victims each time she was pregnant, forcing her to miscarry five times.

All three victims were acquaintances of Castro’s children. He attended vigils on the anniversaries of the women’s disappearances and forced the women to watch television coverage of their grieving families.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Castro was initially taken to the Lorain Correctional Institution after sentencing. He was transferred Aug. 5 to the reception center in Orient.

He was in protective custody because of the notoriety of his case, meaning he was checked every 30 minutes but was not on suicide watch, said Smith, the corrections spokeswoman.

Messages were left for Castro’s attorneys at their offices and were not immediately returned.

At the sentencing, 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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