When Amanda Berry gave birth to her daughter on Dec. 25, 2006, the baby was not breathing. Ariel Castro, whose DNA proved he was the baby’s father, turned to Michelle Knight and threatened to kill her if she didn’t save the baby. According to new court documents, Michelle breathed into the baby’s mouth and “miraculously, the baby survived.”
And during Ariel Castro’s hearing on Thursday, she proved to be a hero again when she delivered a powerful victim impact statement.
“I cried every night. I was so alone. I worried about what would happen to me and the other girls every day. Days never got shorter. Days turned into nights, nights turned into days. The years turned into eternity. I knew nobody cared about me. He told me that my family didn’t care,” Knight explained through tears. “Nobody should ever have to go through what I went through.”
She mentioned her relationship with Gina DeJesus, calling DeJesus her “team mate.”
“She never let me fall, I never let her fall. She nursed me back to health when I was dying from his abuse,” she said. “My friendship with her was the only thing that was good out of this situation. We said that we would some day make it out alive and we did.”
Knight then addressed Castro, describing how the captor would go to church every Sunday and then come home and abuse the three women.
“You took 11 years of my life away and I have got it back,” she said. “I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that happened but you will face hell for eternity. From this moment on, I will not let you define me or affect who I am. I will live on, you will die a little every day as you think about the 11 years and atrocities you inflicted on us.”
She added, “The death penalty will be so much easier. You don’t deserve that, you deserve life in prison.”
Ariel Castro Speaks
When it came time for Castro to deliver his statement, he described himself as someone who suffered from sexual addiction, noting he was a victim of his addiction and not a monster.
“These people are trying to paint me as a monster, I’m not a monster, I’m sick,” he said, stressing that he is not a violent person.
“They’re trying to say that I’m a violent person, I’m not a violent person. I drove a school bus, I [was] a musician, I have a family,” he explained during his lengthy remarks. “I do have value for human life because every time I came home, I would be so glad for [the] situation, as crazy as it sounds.”
He continued, “These accusations that I would come home and beat them, those are totally wrong Your Honor. I know what I did was wrong. I’m not a violent person, I simply kept them there without being able to leave … I just wanted to clear the record that I’m not a monster.”
What Went on Inside the House
The women – Knight, Berry and Gina DeJesus – were terrified and degraded for about 10 years after being kidnapped and constrained with chains and zip ties while living in primitive conditions, according to a 22-page document submitted by the prosecutor’s office Wednesday for Castro’s sentencing hearing.
He was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years for pleading guilty to more than 900 counts of rape and kidnapping, and expected to speak in his own defense in a Cleveland courthouse Thursday. Watch it live on Cleveland.com
“Very little movement was allowed throughout the house They only had access to plastic toilets in the bedrooms. They were emptied infrequently,” documents say. “He controlled the temperature and the inflow of food and drink. He used the cold of the basement and the heat of the attic as punishment techniques.”
For years, the girls watched holidays, world events, and even the passing of Berry’s mother from the now-boarded up house on Seymour Avenue. They kept diaries, which described the psychological and sexual abuse they endured, how they were treated like animals and prisoners of war, and their dreams of someday escaping.
Dr. Frank Ochberg, an expert on Stockholm Syndrome and traumatic memories, submitted an evaluation of the women after viewing police interviews on video, checking medical records and FBI reports. He says the women “managed to share faith and friendship” on the rare occasions they were allowed to be together. He adds that the women home-schooled Berry’s baby and instilled “honorable values” when they could.
“This is the good news,” he states. “But it does not in any way paint a rosy picture for normalcy or a quick recovery. Grave damage has been done.”