Ariel Castro pleads not guilty in Ohio kidnap case

Ariel Castro stands before a judge Wednesday during his arraignment.

Ariel Castro stands before a judge Wednesday during his arraignment. Photo by The Associated Press.

CLEVELAND (AP) — A man accused of holding three women captive in his home for about a decade pleaded not guilty Wednesday to hundreds of rape and kidnapping charges, and the defense hinted at avoiding a trial with a plea deal if the death penalty were ruled out.

The death penalty is in play because among the accusations facing Ariel Castro, 52, is that he forced a miscarriage by one of the women, which is considered a killing under Ohio law. That charge doesn’t include a possible death penalty, but a prosecutor has said that’s under review.

The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Each said they had accepted a ride from Castro, who remained friends with the family of one girl and even attended vigils over the years marking her disappearance.

Castro, dressed Wednesday in an orange jail outfit with his hands and ankles shackled and a full dark beard grown in jail, kept his chin tucked on his chest through a brief court appearance. He didn’t speak or glance at his two attorneys standing by his side.

Attorney Craig Weintraub acknowledged afterward that “certain charges in the indictment cannot be disputed” and said the defense was working to avoid an “unnecessary trial” with a possible death penalty sentence.

The 329-count indictment returned Friday covered only the period from August 2002, when the first of the women disappeared, to February 2007. More charges could be filed.

Castro 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. He was also charged with two counts of aggravated murder related to one act, saying he purposely caused the unlawful termination of one of the pregnancies of one of the women.

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