Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro to be sentenced Thursday

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Ariel Castro, who pleaded guilty last week to kidnapping, raping and beating three Cleveland women, will find out his fate Thursday at a sentencing hearing, though it’s no mystery where he’ll spend the rest of his life.

The bigger mystery is who will speak at the hearing.

Among those who could address Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge Michael Russo — and Castro — are the three victims: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight or their appointed representatives. The women also could choose to make written or video-recorded statements. It also is possible that the court will not hear from the women at all.

The three, for the most part, have maintained a low profile since May 6, when Berry escaped the home with her 6-year-old daughter and called for police. In July, the women released a YouTube video to thank the community.

Berry also surprised a crowd last weekend, when she walked onstage during a Cleveland concert and was greeted by cheering fans. She later returned to the stage at the invitation of rapper Nelly.

Castro also will have a chance to speak on his behalf and possibly shed light on the dark secrets he had at his Seymour Avenue home in Cleveland during the 10 years he held the women captive.

The former bus driver kidnapped the women from the streets of Cleveland's west side, then held them captive in his home, court records state. During their captivity, he raped and beat the women, chained them in his basement, and allowed them outside only a few times, the records show.

DNA analysis also shows that Castro fathered Berry's 6-year-old daughter, and prosecutors say he impregnated Knight and then beat her to force a miscarriage. It was that act that resulted in the aggravated murder charge and a possible death penalty.

Castro agreed last Friday to a plea bargain to avoid a death sentence. He also pleaded guilty to 937 charges, including aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping. The deal stipulates that he will receive life in prison without parole, plus an additional 1,000 years.

After last Friday's hearing, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty described Castro as a manipulator without remorse who would not leave prison “except nailed in a box or in an ash can.”

McGinty is expected to call at least one expert to testify about the three women’s mental state during captivity, said Joe Frolik, a spokesman for McGinty. The expert will specifically discuss the Stockholm syndrome, a mental condition sometimes seen in kidnapping victims in which they begin to feel sympathy and even appreciation for their captor.

The prosecutor’s witnesses “are going to talk about the impact [Castro] had on these women,” Frolik said.

Frolik, though, would not identify the prosecution witnesses who will be called, other than to say a nationally recognized expert on Stockholm syndrome would take the stand.

“We’re still formulating our game plan,” Frolik said.

The plea bargain hearing last Friday lasted several hours, but Judge Russo has issued a statement that Thursday's sentencing hearing will begin at 9 a.m. ET and conclude by 1 p.m.

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