Found hanged: Kidnapper sentenced to life plus 1,000 years

OHIO - ONE of the most sensational stories in the annals of American crime history has come to an equally shocking end.

The man who kidnapped, raped, beat and starved three women he held captive for a decade apparently hanged himself in his jail cell just one month after being sentenced to life imprisonment and an extra 1,000 years in jail.

Ariel Castro, 53, had been isolated to protect him from other inmates at the Correctional Reception Centre in Orient, just south of the state capital Columbus, when prison staff found him hanged on Tuesday night.

Prison medics tried to resuscitate him, then transferred him to a hospital in Ohio State University where he was pronounced dead about 90 minutes later.

No details were immediately given on what he used to hang himself, but speculation centred on either bedding or clothing.

Castro's death brings an end to a story that horrified the world earlier this year when Ms Amanda Berry, now 27, escaped from the dungeon-like basement of his home in a ramshackle Cleveland neighbourhood where he had held her and two others for 10 years.

Police later freed Ms Gina DeJesus, 23, and Ms Michelle Knight, 32 - as well as a six-year-old daughter Ms Berry gave birth to in captivity after being raped by Castro - from the house of horrors, which has since been torn down.

The news that the three women - long thought dead - had been found alive and freed was cheered across the country. But as details of their long sordid ordeal came out, joy turned to revulsion.

Castro, a former school bus driver, pleaded guilty in July to 937 counts of kidnapping, rape, felonious assault and a charge of aggravated murder under a fetal homicide law for forcing a miscarriage of one of his three victims.

A plea deal with prosecutors spared him from a possible death penalty for murder, but on Aug 1, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, plus 1,000 years in jail.

Castro was moved to the prison processing facility in Orient, about 240km south-east of Cleveland, on Aug 5.

He was recently removed from suicide watch, according to television reports, and his health and mental state being evaluated before he was to be transferred to a more permanent lock-up, prison officials said.

On social media, most people were cheering the news of his death.

"Now that's a HAPPY ENDING!!!" wrote netizen Nick Cellini on a Facebook posting, according to USA Today and Cleveland.com.

But someone who identified himself as Hassan Shah summed up the mixed reactions to Castro's sudden death.

"Very sad that Ariel Castro was able to dictate the terms of his death. I would have preferred that he rot in jail for the rest of his life," he wrote in a tweet.

There was also concern over the actual circumstances surrounding Castro's death.

One of his lawyers, Craig Weintraub, told the nationally broadcast Today show: "I understand that the public in general is probably going to say good riddance…

"But this is a human being, we are in a civilised society and we expect that the person would be protected when they're institutionalised, and so there is an obligation on the part of the prisons and I would doubt that the prison officials would dispute that."

But Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson issued a statement that focused on Castro's victims.

"Our focus remains on the well-being of the survivors of Seymour Avenue," he wrote, in a reference to the street where Castro's house had been located. "It is our sincere hope that they will continue to heal and recover."

But Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a British-based psychologist and author, told NBC News that Castro's suicide was a "last slap" to his victims.

"Going forward now these girls are going to have to find a way of healing without a sense of justice."

zach@sph.com.sg

About the 'house of horrors' case

THE three victims of Ariel Castro had vanished without a trace between 2002 and 2004 after he kidnapped each of them by luring them into his car with offers of a ride.

Ms Michelle Knight, the first to disappear, was 20, Ms Amanda Berry was 16 and Ms Gina DeJesus only 14 when she vanished.

They escaped from Castro's home on May 6, when he was out and Ms Berry kicked down a door and yelled to neighbours for help.

"Help me," she said in an emergency phone call. "I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."

The two other women were so scared of Castro that they held back even as police officers began to swarm the house. But they quickly realised they were free.

Castro was arrested the same evening.

He had fathered a child with Ms Berry; that girl was six years old when she was freed.

A judge rejected Castro's request to have visiting rights with his daughter.

Public elation over the women's rescue soon turned to shock when investigators revealed that they were bound with chains, repeatedly raped and deprived of food and bathroom facilities.

Castro was a bus driver for public schools in Cleveland until he was fired in 2012 after disciplinary actions were taken against him.

Ms Knight, now 32, told investigators that she was beaten and starved several times to force her to miscarry.

She was the only one of the three who appeared at Castro's sentencing.

"I spent 11 years in hell," she told him. "Now your hell is just beginning."

PAUL ZACH

With additional information from Associated Press and Reuters

 

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