By Ashley Fantz and Ronni Berke
(CNN) — Ariel Castro agreed Friday in an Ohio courtroom to a plea deal in one of the most sensational kidnapping cases in recent memory. The deal, reached with prosecutors, would let him avoid the possibility of a death sentence and spare his alleged victims from having to testify at a trial.
The plea deal recommends that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole — that he never get a parole hearing. It could also mean that a trial Castro was facing on August 5 will not happen and he will not face the possibility of being sentenced to death. Judge Michael J. Russo went over the deal with Castro, and told him that he would be labeled as a sexual predator.
Castro replied that he understood. At one point, he interjected that he was “also a victim as a child …” to which Russo responded that he could make whatever statement he wanted during a sentencing hearing. Russo also said that victims would be notified of the hearing and would then have a chance to say what they liked.
Russo went through charges Castro faced and asked him how he pleaded.
Over and over, Casto replied: “Guilty.”
An attorney for three women had told CNN that they were hoping for a plea deal because they do not want to take the stand at Castro’s trial.
Castro was charged with 977 counts, including aggravated murder on suspicion of ending the pregnancy of one of his alleged captives. Under the deal, he agreed to plead guilty to 937 counts.
Russo told Castro that the deal would mean he would go to prison for life, plus at least 1,000 years.
Earlier this month, the former bus driver pleaded not guilty to the 977 charges, and he was being held on $8 million bail.
Castro’s defense attorneys had previously said they wanted a deal that would take capital punishment out of the equation.
Castro abducted Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus separately in a two-year period starting in 2002, according to authorities.
The women and Berry’s 6-year-old daughter were freed in May after one of the women shouted for help while Castro was away from his 1,400-square-foot home. DNA tests have confirmed that Castro is the rescued child’s father.
Their cries for help were heard by neighbor Charles Ramsey, who was sitting down to eat at his home nearby.
“I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house,” he told CNN affiliate WEWS. “I go on the porch and she says, ‘help me get out. I’ve been in here a long time.'”
Figuring it was a domestic dispute, neighbor Charles Ramsey kicked in the bottom of a door and the woman came out with a little girl and said, “Call 911. My name is Amanda Berry,” according to Ramsey, who said he didn’t recognize the name or know she was missing.
Finally free, Berry pleaded for a phone.
“Help me, I am Amanda Berry,” she told police in a frantic 911 call from a neighbor’s house. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here, I’m free now.”
Under the plea deal, the house where the women were confined will be demolished, Russo said.
Berry was last seen after finishing her shift at a Burger King in Cleveland in 2003. It was the eve of her 17th birthday.
DeJesus disappeared nearly a year later, in April 2004. She was 14.
Knight vanished in 2002, at age 21, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
In early July, Berry, DeJesus and Knight released a YouTube video offering their thanks to all those who have helped them since they were freed.
“I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal. Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing,” Berry said in the video. “I’m getting stronger each day.”
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