By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Witnesses testified in graphic terms on Thursday how Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro abducted three women and imprisoned them for a decade in his home, where he sometimes kept them in chains, isolated from each other and without regular meals.
A police officer, a psychiatrist and a detective were among those who testified at the court hearing where Castro, 53, is expected to be sentenced to life in prison.
Wearing leg shackles and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, Castro listened to the testimony without expression.
A dollhouse-like replica of Castro’s house was set up in the courtroom to illustrate how he kept the women imprisoned for so long, often isolated from each other.
Castro pleaded guilty last week to hundreds of criminal charges to avoid the possibility of the death penalty. He is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 1,000 years.
Cleveland television station WEWS reported on Thursday that Michelle Knight, whom Castro abducted in 2002, will testify in person later on Thursday. Lawyers for the victims have not commented on whether the women will testify.
Authorities have said Knight, the first woman abducted by Castro, suffered the most physical injury from the abuse.
Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23 and Knight, 32, all went missing from the west side of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004. They were discovered on May 6 after neighbors heard Berry’s cries for help from Castro’s home.
Cleveland policewoman Barbara Johnson, one of the first officers to arrive that day, testified that she had found two of the women in the dark house, up a staircase and behind a thick curtain, after she responded to a 911 call.
She and a male officer walked up the stairs, saying they were from the Cleveland police. There was no immediate response, but after a short time, they heard footsteps and saw Knight.
“She literally launched herself into (the male policeman’s) arms,” Johnson said. DeJesus emerged timidly from another room and identified herself.
Johnson said the women told her that Berry had given birth to a daughter fathered by Castro while they were held captive in the house. Knight assisted in the birth, and Castro threatened to kill her if the baby died, Johnson said.
The women have said little in public since they were freed, releasing one short video expressing gratitude for the support they have received and asking for privacy. Berry appeared at a concert in Cleveland on Saturday and waved to the crowd.
In a report released on Wednesday, prosecutors described a grim life of constant mental and physical assault and isolation after the women were abducted. They were kept apart from each other and were often chained or restrained. They received only one meal a day and took one or two showers a week, and they had to use small plastic toilets that were not often emptied.
The three survivors told investigators Castro controlled every aspect of their lives. He used the cold basement, hot attic and sexual abuse as punishment, threatening them with a gun. He also told the women that he had other victims, and that “some of them made it home, but that others had not,” prosecutors said.
A psychiatrist’s opinion attached to the prosecutors’ report said that despite the abuse, the women “acted with fortitude, courage and grace.”
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)