(CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio) — Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man accused of kidnapping three women and keeping them locked inside his home for a decade, made a court appearance Wednesday in which he struggled to keep his eyes open and head up as the judge admonished him to pay attention.
As Castro, 53, stood before a judge in a Cuyahoga County, Ohio, courtroom, he put his head down and closed his eyes. He wore an orange jumpsuit and dark hair and beard.
“Would you please look at me, sir?” the judge asked. “Mr. Castro. I need to make sure you understand what I’m saying.”
He lifted his chin but kept his eyes closed.
“Mr. Castro? Again, you must look at me, sir,” the judge continued. “Can you open your eyes, please?”
The judge asked several times before Castro kept his head up and alternately opened and closed his eyes for periods of time throughout the hearing, occasionally nodding or saying “yes” when addressed by the judge.
Wednesday was Castro’s second arraignment in which he entered a not guilty plea on an expanded 977-count indictment. He had previously pleaded not guilty to charges in a 329-count indictment.
The indictment includes hundreds of charges for kidnapping and rape. His bond was continued at $8 million.
Castro, a former school bus driver, is accused of snatching Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus between 2002 and 2004 and imprisoning them, sometimes restrained by chains, in his Cleveland home.
He is also accused of the aggravated murder of a fetus for allegedly forcibly causing an abortion in one of his victims that he is accused of impregnating, a charge that could potentially carry the death penalty.
Knight, 32, Berry, 27, and DeJesus, 23, have kept a low profile since Berry escaped and the other two women were rescued May 6.
The three women posted a video on YouTube on July 9 to offer thanks for the support they have received trying to rebuild their lives.
Each of the women appeared separately in the three-minute, 33-second video, with Berry and Knight each making a brief statement, while DeJesus answered questions from someone off camera, followed by her father, Felix DeJesus, and then her mother, Nancy Ruiz.
In a July 3 hearing, Castro was denied access to the 6-year-old daughter he fathered with one of his alleged victims.
Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo ruled Castro is competent to stand trial and said he would not allow contact with the girl, calling it “inappropriate.” The girl is with her mother, Amanda Berry, who is one of Castro’s alleged victims.
Castro’s competency exam showed he is mentally able to understand the charges against him and is able to assist in his defense, Russo said.
Jury selection for his trial is scheduled to begin in August.
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