By Michael Muskal
Los Angeles Times
Michelle Knight, one of the three women kidnapped and sexually abused for years by Ariel Castro, described how she spent 11 years “in hell” as his sex slave, and told her former captor in court Thursday that “your hell is just beginning.”
Castro was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, plus 1,000 years to ensure he will die in prison.
“You may think you are the victim,” Judge Michael J. Russo told Castro. “But you are not a victim, you are a victimizer.”
Knight’s appearance was the first time she has been seen in public since she and two other women were liberated from Castro’s Cleveland house where they were held prisoner and repeatedly abused by Castro.
“You took 11 years of my life away,” Knight said at the sentencing hearing for Castro. “I spent 11 years in hell, and your hell is just beginning.”
Castro was impassive as Knight and relatives of the other victims spoke. He wore an orange prison jumpsuit. When he entered the courtroom after a break, he looked to the audience, but it was unclear whether he saw Knight, sitting with her family.
“These people are trying to paint me as a monster. I am not a monster. I am sick,” Castro told the court. He then said that he was addicted to pornography, but that was not an excuse for his actions.
“I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me,” he said later in his rambling statement, at times with tears in his eyes, before sentencing.
Castro has accepted a plea deal that will spare him the death penalty but will keep him in prison for the rest of his life.
Knight, now 32, was the first woman abducted by Castro in 2002 after he lured her into his house with the promise of a puppy for her son, police testified earlier in the sentencing hearing.
Castro has already pleaded guilty to hundreds of counts describing how he kidnapped the three women and repeatedly abused them. Castro has also admitted that he forced Knight to miscarry by repeatedly beating her.
A letter believed to have been written by Castro that investigators retrieved from his home was displayed at his sentencing hearing. The letter reads, in part, “Bottom line is, I am a sexual predator.”
Castro in his comments agreed with that characterization.
Images from inside Castro’s home were also shown in court. One bedroom had stuffed animals, toys, an easel and a beside toilet. The windows were boarded up, the door locked from the outside and it had a hole cut in it for ventilation.
Other photos showed the basement where Castro kept his victims, and a chain used to restrain them.
Another victim, Amanda Berry, 27, made a surprise onstage appearance at a rap concert last weekend, and the third victim, Gina DeJesus, 23, made a few televised comments as a privacy fence was being erected around her house. Knight, 32, appeared with Berry and DeJesus in a video in early July thanking the community for its support.
The women quickly escaped after Berry kicked out a door panel on May 6 and Castro was arrested within hours. The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.