Ariel Castro is arraigned at Cleveland Municipal Court for the kidnapping of three women. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Donna Leinwand Leger and John Bacon, USA TODAY
The man accused of kidnapping and holding three women for a decade pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Cleveland to hundreds of criminal counts that include murder, rape, kidnapping and torture.
The lawyer for Ariel Castro, 52, waived readings of Castro's rights and the charges and entered the plea in an arraignment that took about one minute. A pretrial hearing was set for June 19.
Castro, handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit, did not speak or look up during the hearing. Afterward, Castro attorney Craig Weintraub made a brief statement calling the plea the first step in a legal process.
A Cuyahoga County grand jury's 329-count indictment charges Castro, a musician and former school bus driver, with one count of aggravated murder for allegedly terminating one of his captives' pregnancies, 139 counts of rape and 177 charges of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felony assault and one count of possession of criminal tools dating from the time of the first woman's disappearance until February 2007.
County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty has said the investigation is still underway. Additional charges could follow in a superseding indictment.
The indictment charges Castro as a "sexually violent predator" who committed the murder and rapes in the course of a kidnapping. Those charges are considered aggravating factors that call for stiffer penalties. The murder charge is tied to one victim's fourth pregnancy, the indictment said.
The County Prosecutor's Capital Review Committee will consider whether prosecutors should seek the death penalty if Castro is convicted. Castro, who was fired last year from his bus driver job, is being held in the Cuyahoga County jail on $8 million bail.
Amanda Berry, one of the kidnapped women, broke free from Castro's home on the west side of Cleveland on May 6 and led police to Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. Berry gave birth to a daughter while held captive. Berry, now 27, disappeared April 21, 2003, a day before her 17th birthday. Knight, now 32, disappeared Aug. 22, 2002, the day she was to appear at a custody hearing for her son. DeJesus, now 21, disappeared April 2, 2004.
Police allege in the indictment that Castro chained Knight to a pole in the basement and raped her the day after he took her captive. He allegedly taped Berry's legs and mouth, sexually assaulted her after she tried to escape, chained her to a pole in the basement with a motorcycle helmet on her head, chained her to a radiator in the bedroom, and attempted to strangle her with a vacuum cleaner cord, the indictment says. He also allegedly chained and assaulted DeJesus.
McGinty said after Castro's arrest last month that he would ask the grand jury to charge Castro for every day of the women's captivity and for every instance of sexual assault.