Mr Castro stands before you captive... the woman are free

Accused silent in face of accusations including sexual violence and aggravated murder

Hands cuffed, his chin buried deep in the collar of his dark blue jumpsuit, Ariel Castro appeared in a Cleveland court yesterday.

He is charged with kidnapping and raping three women, and holding a young child captive during a decade in which he used his house as a prison.

During his brief arraignment in court, though, the man who has been described as a violent bully cut a forlorn figure. He tried to hide his face and didn't speak or enter a plea.

"Today, the situation has changed ... Mr Castro stands before you captive, in captivity, a prisoner. The women are free, resuming their lives that were interrupted," Brian Murphy, from the county prosecutor's office, told the court.

Castro was brought before Judge Lauren Moore, who set bail for the 52-year-old at US$8 million ($9.5 million), at Cleveland Municipal Court after Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Berry's 6-year-old daughter, who was born in captivity, escaped from the suspect's home at 2207 Seymour Ave.

The women were freed on Tuesday after neighbours heard Berry's cries. Charles Ramsey, who lives across the street from Castro's house, helped her pull down a door and escape.

County prosecutor Tim McGinty said he would consider pursuing the death penalty if "aggravated murder" was also involved.

Police charged that he impregnated Knight at least five times and made her miscarry by starving her and punching her in the belly.

The allegations were contained in a police report that also said Berry was forced to give birth in a plastic kiddie pool.

McGinty told the court: "I fully intend to seek charges on each and every act of sexual violence, rape, each day of kidnapping, every felonious assault, all these attempted murders, and each act of aggravated murder he committed by terminating pregnancies that the offender perpetuated against the hostages during this decade-long ordeal."

Murphy explained the charges, saying they were based on "premeditated, depraved and deliberate decisions to snatch three young ladies from Cleveland's west-side streets to be used in whatever self-gratifying [and] self-serving way he saw fit".

Murphy continued: "While in captivity they withstood repeated beatings. They were bound and restrained and sexually assaulted, basically never free to leave this residence ... that's a home that served as Mr Castro's residence, but his prison to these three women and eventually [the] child."

The proceedings lasted just a few minutes, during which time Moore set Castro's bail at US$2 million for each of the cases against him - four counts of kidnapping connected to the women and the child, and three counts of rape connected to Berry, DeJesus and Knight. The child, who was born on Christmas Day in 2006, was referred to in the court documents as "Jane Doe".

Ariel Castro, the former school bus driver and musician, was joined in court by his brothers - 54-year-old Pedro Castro and 50-year-old Onil Castro - who answered unrelated misdemeanour charges.

As proceedings began the three short, squat men stood next to one another by the courtroom's slatted wall, an arrangement that recalled the police mugshots that have stared out from front pages across the world this week. None of the brothers uttered a word.

Pedro and Onil Castro had been taken into custody with their brother as investigators tried to piece together the astonishing sequence of events between the women disappearing and being freed on Tuesday, but no evidence was found connecting them to the case.

Pedro Castro pleaded no contest to a 2011 charge of drinking alcohol in the street and was fined US$100, while Moore dismissed a similar charge and one of drug abuse against Onil that dated back more than a decade. After Ariel Castro's arraignment, the public defender assigned to him, Kathleen DeMetz, said he would be moved to a county jail.

Castro, who has lived on Cleveland's west side for 39 years and was fired from his job last year, did not enter a formal plea. The case now moves to a county grand jury, that could indict him on additional charges.

DeMetz said she understood that her client had been on suicide watch, and that she expected authorities to continue monitoring him in the same way while he was behind bars.

- Independent

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