Michelle Knight was a young mother when Ariel Castro lured her into his house in 2002 with the promise of a puppy for her son. She stayed a prisoner in the Cleveland house for more than a decade, was impregnated five times, beaten and abused so severely that she endured five miscarriages.
On Thursday, she confronted the man who tortured her and who will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“I spent 11 years in hell,” Knight told Castro, 53. “Now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all that happened, but you’re going to face hell for eternity.
“From this moment on, I am not going to let you define me or affect who I am,” said the diminutive Knight in her first public appearance since she and two other women escaped in May. “I will live on but you will die a little more inside each day as you think of those 11 years and the atrocities you inflicted on us. The death penalty would be the easy way out. You don’t deserve that. We want you to spend the rest of your life in prison.”
The confrontation between Knight, 32, and her abuser came during a televised sentencing Thursday in a Cleveland courtroom. Knight spoke after relatives of the other victims, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Amanda Berry, 27, who has a daughter by Castro. The women were kidnapped separately between 2002 and 2004; Knight was 20 years old, Berry was 16 and DeJesus was 14.
The outcome of the sentencing hearing was never in doubt after Castro accepted a plea deal last week that spared him the death penalty but meant he would die in prison, serving life without any chance of parole.
Still, there was an air of unreality in the courtroom as Castro, dressed in orange jail garb, tried to explain what he’d done. He apologized for his actions, but in a rambling, at times disjointed, at times defiant statement also tried to defend himself.
“These people are trying to paint me as a monster. I am not a monster. I am sick,” Castro told Judge Michael J. Russo. He said that he was addicted to pornography, but that was not an excuse for his actions. “I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me,” he said later.
At one point, Castro said the abuse was consensual sex. “We had a lot of harmony that went on in that home,” Castro said.
“I’m not sure there’s anyone in America that would agree with you,” Russo said in handing down the maximum sentences to Castro for the “merciless manner” in which he tortured the women.
“You may think you are the victim,” Russo said. “But you are not a victim; you are a victimizer.”
Earlier in the hearing, the relatives of the two other women said they were grateful for the support they had received from Cleveland but needed to move on with their lives.
Much of Thursday’s hearing was devoted to law enforcement officials describing the horrific scene at Castro’s Seymour Avenue house, which has been forfeited to the county and will be demolished. New, even more graphic details of the imprisonment that shocked the nation were revealed.
Based on diary entries, officers told of how the women were chained to poles in the basement, or to a bedroom heater, or kept at bay in a van. One woman was forced to wear a motorcycle helmet while chained in the basement and, after she tried to escape, had a vacuum cord wrapped around her neck, officials said.
Castro repeatedly starved and beat Knight each time she was pregnant, forcing her to miscarry five times, authorities said. That abuse was the basis of the charge that could have brought the death penalty.
Castro also forced Knight to safely deliver on Christmas Day 2006 the child he fathered with Berry. That same day, prosecutors said, Castro raped Knight yet again.
Castro “tormented me constantly, especially on holidays,” Knight said Thursday. “Christmas was the most traumatic day because I didn’t get to spend it with my son. No one should ever have to experience what we went through. Not even an enemy.”
On May 6, Berry managed to kick out a door panel and call for help. Castro and two brothers were arrested hours later eating fast food. The brothers were released when it was made clear that they had no knowledge of the imprisoned women.