Bail set at $8 million for kidnap suspect; prosecutor may seek death penalty

[Updated 4:30 p.m. ET]

CLEVELAND, Ohio—A judge set bail at $8 million at a brief hearing Thursday for Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man accused of kidnapping and keeping three young women as captives for a decade. The lawyer prosecuting the case said he may seek the death penalty against Castro.

Cleveland Municipal Judge Lauren C. Moore set bail at $2 million per charge, an amount that indicated the judge wants to keep Castro in jail. He was ordered not to have any contact with the three women or their families.

Castro appeared in court Thursday morning along with his brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50. All three were handcuffed, but Onil and Pedro Castro were not charged. They appeared before the same judge this morning on outstanding misdemeanors and were released around noon.

The Cleveland Police Department announced it had handed over custody of Ariel Castro had to county authorities.

Castro, 52, is charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. Police say the former school bus driver held Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32, at his west side Cleveland home. The women were reportedly restrained with ropes and chains. Court documents indicate Castro repeatedly raped the women throughout their captivity.

Timothy McGinty, a Cuyahoga County prosecutor leading the case, said he and his team are evaluating whether to pursue charges eligible for the death penalty, which he said should be reserved for the "worst examples" of human conduct.

"I fully intend to seek to 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 perpetuaged against the hostages during this decade-long ordeal," McGinty told reporters at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Knight was taken on Aug. 22, 2002, Berry on April 21, 2003, and DeJesus on April 2, 2004.

Berry, who went missing a day before her 17th birthday after leaving her job at a nearby fast-food restaurant, broke free from Castro's home with her 6-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, on Monday. After she called police, DeJesus and Knight were able to escape, too.

Court records indicate that in each case, Castro lured the victim into his car and took her to his Seymour Avenue home. Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told reporters on Wednesday that the women, as well as Ariel Castro, have given lengthy statements to police.

The women had several miscarriages during their captivity, police said.

Berry gave birth to Jocelyn on Dec. 25, 2006. Police said the girl was born in an inflatable swimming pool. The fourth kidnapping charge against Castro came from holding the girl, whom court papers identify as Jane Doe, in captivity as well.

Despite the gruesome details, Terry Gilbert, a Cleveland-based criminal defense lawyer, said prosecutors are facing a challenge proving aggravated murder against Castro.

Under Ohio law, a person can be charged with murder for causing the termination of a pregnancy. The prosecution, however, will need physical, medical, and forensic evidence in this case, Gilbert said.

“You’re going to have to have a body,” he said. “Somebody just saying that (the women's pregnancies were terminated) may not be enough.”

Gilbert also said the case may not fit as a death penalty case because defense attorneys would argue whether aggravating specifications—kidnapping, assault, and crimes beyond murder—can be applied to a fetus.

“There’s a lot of road blocks to get to (the death penalty),” Gilbert said. “It would be a highly unusual and difficult kind of prosecution to make.”

As they entered court, Pedro and Onil were looking up. Ariel Castro consistently looked down and never faced the court.

Public defender Kathleen DeMetz said she had met with Ariel Castro for about 30 minutes before the arraignment began to review the charges against him and brief him on how the proceedings would unfold. She would not comment on his demeanor or what he said to her.

Brian Murphy, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor, told the judge Castro "snatched" the three women off the streets of Cleveland. He asked that the court set bond at $5 million and that Castro not be allowed to have any contact with women or their families, whether he gets out on bond or not.

DeMetz told the judge that Castro has lived in the area for the past 32 years, is unemployed and, to her knowledge, had no prior convictions. After the hearing, DeMetz said it would be highly unlikely that he would make bond.

"He would have to come with $800,000 cash to get out," DeMetz said. "He clearly does not have that."

While Knight remains in a local hospital, both Berry and DeJesus were escorted home by police motorcades to raucous crowds on Wednesday.

Berry and her daughter went to Berry's sister’s home, while DeJesus returned to her parents' tan bungalow. Both families live just a few miles from the ramshackle row house where they were apparently held as prisoners.

Berry’s sister, Beth Serrano, briefly addressed the crowd outside her home and said that Berry needed time to recover before talking publicly about her ordeal.

“At this time our family would request privacy so my sister, niece and I have time to recover,” Serrano said. “We appreciate all you have done for us for the past 10 years. Please respect our privacy until we are ready to make our statement."

Later in the day, DeJesus, wearing a bright yellow hoodie, was quickly taken inside her home without speaking or showing her face. She was seen giving a thumbs-up to the crowd of reporters and onlookers assembled outside.

Her parents, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz, and aunt Sandra Ruiz thanked the police and FBI for their assistance in the investigation. They asked for patience and promised to take questions from reporters soon.

“The three of them are doing great. Those were miracles," Nancy Ruiz said of her daughter, Berry and Knight.

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