He objected to being called a “sexually violent predator” and briefly tried to explain a compulsion that he claims led him to kidnap, rape and hold Amanda Berry, now 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32, hostage for a decade: “I would like to state that I was also a victim as a child, and it just kept going,” a calm Ariel Castro told a Cleveland courtroom on July 26. But in admitting his guilt and agreeing to a term of life plus 1,000 years in prison, Castro, 53, also avoided a possible death sentence. “Hopefully the decision to resolve the case will benefit the progress the women have made in their remarkable recovery,” Castro’s attorney Craig Weintraub tells PEOPLE.
Castro’s victims welcomed the deal. “Amanda, Gina and Michelle are relieved,” say their attorneys in a statement. So is Castro’s son Anthony. “If he can’t control his impulses and doesn’t have any value for human life, then behind bars is where he belongs for the rest of his life,” Anthony, 31, told NBC’s Today show.
Now a banker living in Columbus, Ohio, Anthony, who once covered the disappearances of DeJesus and Berry when he was a college journalist, said he felt “overwhelming joy” when he heard the victims had been rescued but was sickened once he heard Berry name his own father as the perpetrator. “That was the toughest moment, and that’s when it became real.”
As a child, Anthony said, he’d cry himself to sleep after his father beat him with a belt or after seeing his abused mother, Grimilda, “crumpled up in a corner on the floor.” With Castro locked away forever, Anthony said, “My father will never be able to hurt anyone again. I have nothing to say to him.”
Freed from the need to testify, Castro’s victims are now beginning to emerge from the shadows. Berry showed up at the RoverFest concert in Cleveland a day after Castro’s court appearance, and the radio host Shane “Rover” French introduced her to cheers from 15,000 people. Shy at first, she was soon waving to the large crowd and dancing with the rapper Nelly. “She was reserved, but she was also very friendly,” says French. “It was so emotional.” Making an appearance of her own, DeJesus and her mother, Nancy Ruiz, spoke to a Cleveland news station on July 28 to thank a local company for building a privacy fence around their home. “It really meant a lot to me,” DeJesus said.
The swift end to the criminal case just months after the women’s May 6 rescue has allowed them to “live their lives,” says a source close to the women. “This chapter is finally over.”