CHICAGO - The US bus driver who kidnapped three young women and tormented them for a decade in his Ohio home insisted as he was sentenced to life without parole Thursday that he was "not a monster."
In a rambling quasi-apology to his three victims, one of whom sat stonily in the courtroom, Castro claimed he had acted on impulse as a result of sexual addiction.
Castro had pleaded guilty after prosecutors agreed to take the death penalty off the table in a deal that will see him spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole.
Knight, who was snatched off the street in 2002 at the age of 20, said death would have been "so much easier" for her tormenter. "I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning," Knight said.
Castro said that he still couldn't understand why he held the three women captive, but insisted "there was harmony in that home." "I am not a monster. I was sick," Castro said, insisting he was addicted to sex and pornography.
He also insisted the women were lying when they said he beat them, declaring "I am not a violent person." "Most of the sex that went on in the house, probably all of it, was consensual," Castro claimed.
"There was times they would even ask me for sex, many times. These girls were not virgins."
More than 92 pounds (42 kilos) of chains were found in the filthy, darkened home where the women were kept in locked rooms with boarded up windows.
Even more horrifying were the stories the thin, pale and bruised women told upon their release.
"The damage that was done was a life sentence," psychiatrist Frank Ochberg testified.
The case came to light after Amanda Berry, 27, managed to escape with her six-year-old daughter by calling out to a neighbour for help through a locked front door on May 6.
Lured into the car of a man they knew as the father of a friend or classmate at the ages of 20, 16, and 14, the women suffered violent beatings and repeated rapes.
They were fed just once a day and rarely given access to the bathroom, instead having to relieve themselves in plastic buckets that were "emptied infrequently," prosecutors said in a sentencing memo.
Knight was impregnated four times during her 11 years of captivity.
Castro terminated her pregnancies by starving her for days, feeding her rotten food and then kicking and jumping on her stomach, testified Detective Andy Harasimchuk, who interviewed Knight upon her release.
Berry was allowed to carry a pregnancy to term, giving birth in a plastic kiddie pool on Christmas Day, 2006.
Castro would sometimes toss money at his victims after they were raped, which they could then give back to him if they wanted something special from the store, FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke testified.
Cleveland police officer Barb Johnson testified about the shock and sheer joy the women expressed when they were finally freed.
Johnson used he flashlight on her gun to search the darkened house with a fellow officer shortly after Berry was able to escape.
They repeatedly called out "Cleveland police" and heard a "pitter-patter" of feet, which stopped.
Johnson shined the light on herself so the approaching woman could see they really were police officers, at which point Knight "literally launched herself" into another officer's arms. "Legs, arms, just choking him," Johnson said. "And she just kept repeating: 'You saved us, you saved us.'"
Gina DeJesus, who was just 14 when she was abducted, was initially too afraid to leave her room, Johnson added.
Prosecutors said they relied on diaries kept by the women during their lengthy captivity for many of the 977 criminal charges lodged against Castro.
Berry initially addressed her entries to her mother, according to a report by a psychiatrist who evaluated the women. After learning of her mother's death, she wrote to soothe her mother's spirit in heaven.
The entries spoke of rape, vicious beatings, of being chained to a wall and locked in a dark room, of "being treated like an animal," of "anticipating the next session of abuse," and of "his threats to kill," prosecutors said.
The women also wrote of "dreams of some day escaping and being reunited with family," of "missing the lives they once enjoyed" and of their overwhelming desire for freedom.
DNA tests showed that Castro fathered Berry's child. He has asked Judge Michael Russo to allow him to see her, a request the judge deemed "inappropriate."
Police do not understand why none of the people who visited the unassuming house at 2207 Seymour - including Castro's family and girlfriend - realised what was going on there.
His victims have begged the media and public to respect their privacy and give them time to heal. In a statement last week they said they were "relieved" by the plea deal and "satisfied by this resolution to the case."