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Ariel Castro agrees to plea deal to avoid death penalty

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
July 28, 2013 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Under a deal, Castro would be imprisoned for life and never have a parole hearing
  • NEW: The women who say Castro held them captive say they're 'relieved' by the deal
  • Ariel Castro has agreed to take the plea deal -- life plus 1,000 years
  • Castro is accused of holding the women for about a decade

(CNN) -- Ariel Castro agreed Friday in an Ohio courtroom to a plea deal in one of the most sensational kidnapping cases in recent memory. The deal, reached with prosecutors, would let him avoid the possibility of a death sentence and spare his victims from having to testify at a trial.

The plea deal recommends that he be sentenced to life in prison without parole -- that he never get a parole hearing. It would also mean that a trial Castro was facing on August 5 would not happen and he would not face the possibility of being sentenced to death. Judge Michael J. Russo went over the deal with Castro, and told him that he would be labeled as a sexual predator.

Castro replied that he understood. At one point, he interjected that he was "also a victim as a child" to which Russo responded that he could make whatever statement he wanted during the sentencing hearing. Russo also said that victims would be notified of the hearing and also would then have a chance to say what they liked.

Russo went through charges Castro faces relating to the allegations he held three women captive for a decade and asked him how he pleaded.

Under the plea deal, the house where the women were confined, seen above, will be demolished, according to Judge Michael J. Russo.
Under the plea deal, the house where the women were confined, seen above, will be demolished, according to Judge Michael J. Russo.

Over and over, Castro replied: "Guilty."

Amanda Berry speaks in a video released on YouTube on Monday, July 8, thanking people for support and privacy. Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped from a Cleveland home on May 6, 2013, after being held captive for nearly a decade. Amanda Berry speaks in a video released on YouTube on Monday, July 8, thanking people for support and privacy. Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped from a Cleveland home on May 6, 2013, after being held captive for nearly a decade.
Kidnapped teens found decade later
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Photos: Kidnapped teens rescued Photos: Kidnapped teens rescued
Ariel Castro accepts plea deal
Source: Castro has been offered plea deal
Ariel Castro attorneys signal plea deal

At another moment in the hearing, which lasted well over an hour, the judge asked Castro how good his English is.

Castro replied that he is good at spelling and reading but his comprehension is bad because "my addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind."

Timeline: Three Cleveland girls go missing

An attorney for three women had told CNN that they were hoping for a plea deal because they did not want to take the stand at Castro's trial.

A law firm representing Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus, issued a statement after Castro agreed to a plea.

"Amanda, Gina, and Michelle are relieved by today's plea," according to Jones Day. "They are satisfied by this resolution to the case, and are looking forward to having these legal proceedings draw to a final close in the near future."

The women want to remain private and don't want to speak to media or others, the statement said, but they're grateful for the support they've received from family and friends and the Cleveland Courage Fund, which has helped raise money for them.

With help, women freed

Castro's defense attorneys had previously said they wanted a deal that would take capital punishment out of the equation.

Castro was charged with 977 counts, including aggravated murder on suspicion of ending the pregnancy of one of his captives. Under the deal, he agreed to plead guilty to 937 counts.

Russo told Castro that the deal would mean he would go to prison for life, plus at least 1,000 years.

Earlier this month, the former bus driver had pleaded not guilty to the 977 charges. He was being held on $8 million bail.

At the close of Friday's hearing, Russo remanded Castro back into custody, and set a sentencing date for August 1.

Castro abducted Knight, Berry and DeJesus separately in a two-year period starting in 2002, according to authorities.

Snapshots: Who are the three women?

The women and Berry's 6-year-old daughter -- DNA tests have confirmed that Castro is the child's father -- were freed in May after one of the women shouted for help while Castro was away from his 1,400-square-foot home.

The cries for help were heard by neighbor Charles Ramsey, who was sitting down to eat.

Read more: Charles Ramsey: I'm no hero

"I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house," he told CNN affiliate WEWS. "I go on the porch and she says, 'help me get out. I've been in here a long time.'"

Finally free, Berry pleaded for a phone.

Read more: Another person says he played key role

"Help me, I am Amanda Berry," she told police in a frantic 911 call from a neighbor's house. "I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years. And I'm here, I'm free now."

Under the plea deal, the house where the women were confined will be demolished, Russo said.

Berry was last seen after finishing her shift at a Burger King in Cleveland in 2003. It was the eve of her 17th birthday.

DeJesus disappeared nearly a year later, in April 2004. She was 14.

Knight vanished in 2002, at age 21, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.

Read more: Freed women reunite with families

In early July, Berry, DeJesus and Knight released a YouTube video offering their thanks to all those who have helped them since they were freed.

"I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal. Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing," Berry said in the video. "I'm getting stronger each day."

Read more: Thank you video from kidnap victims

CNN's Ronni Berke contributed to this report.

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