CLEVELAND — A man accused of kidnapping three women and holding them in his home and raping them over a decade was given a late summer trial date Wednesday.
Ariel Castro, 52, appeared in court for a brief hearing as Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo said he was aiming to begin the trial by Aug. 4, meeting a 90-day speedy trial requirement. Castro was arrested May 6, and the speedy trial requirement could be waived to allow more preparation time.
Castro faces another pretrial hearing June 26.
As in previous court appearances, Castro had his wrists and ankles shackled and kept his chin tucked in his chest. He answered “yes” and “no” to the judge’s questions about his understanding of the proceedings.
The judge mentioned the possibility of a plea deal raised last week by the defense and asked that any deal that emerges be submitted by attorneys in writing.
Prosecutor Tim McGinty left court without commenting.
Outside court, Castro attorney Craig Weintraub said the defense was focused on whether the prosecution had enough evidence to get an aggravated murder conviction for an allegedly forced miscarriage involving one of the women. The prosecutor hasn’t said whether he would pursue the death penalty.
Weintraub hinted last week that a plea agreement to avoid a trial was possible if the death penalty was taken off the table.
“That’s the most important aspect of the case to us and obviously whether or not the death penalty would be applicable,” he said. “It’s been shifted to the prosecutor’s office as to whether or not they want to pursue this. But as of right now, we haven’t received any of the evidence that would support an aggravated murder conviction.”
McGinty told the judge that his office was working to provide the defense with required access to the evidence on a timely basis.
Also Wednesday, lawmakers in Columbus briefly addressed a bill that would provide the women years of relief payments, college tuition and medical assistance.
The chairman of the Ohio House Health and Aging Committee, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, told the group the measure is a “work in progress.” The Napoleon Republican said legislators have been in contact with the state’s attorney general’s office and higher education leaders to develop the bill.
The proposal would provide the women with a minimum of $25,000 annually in reparations for the years they were held captive. They would also receive tuition, fees and living expenses at a public college.
The bill also requires pursuit of a federal waiver for the women — or anyone restrained or held in “involuntary servitude” for at least eight years — in order to collect lifetime government medical assistance.
Castro, who has pleaded not guilty, was indicted on 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious assault and one count of possession of criminal tools.
The indictment alleges Castro held the women captive, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. It says one of the women tried to escape and he assaulted her with a vacuum cord around her neck.
The indictment covers the period from August 2002, when the first of the women disappeared, to February 2007.
More charges are possible. McGinty told the judge that additional evidence would be presented to a grand jury over the next few weeks.
Castro has been held on $8 million bail.
He was arrested shortly after one of the women broke through a door and yelled to neighbors for help.