(CLEVELAND) - Ariel Castro, the Ohio man convicted of holding three women captive in his Cleveland house over a decade and raping them repeatedly, has been sentenced to life without parole.
Fifty-three-year-old Ariel Castro was being given his sentence Thursday. He had pleaded guilty to 937 counts including aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape and assault.
He got the life term for the most serious count and was getting additional time for the hundreds of other counts.
A plea deal struck last week spared him from a possible death sentence for beating and starving a pregnant victim until she miscarried.
The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
They escaped to freedom May 6 when one of them, Amanda Berry, broke out part of the door to Castro's house and yelled to neighbors for help.
Castro has admitted to kidnapping three young women, abusing them and holding them inside his home for almost ten years.
Prosecutors are outlining the horrific conditions three women endured as they were held captive for almost ten years by confessed kidnapper, rapist and murderer Ariel Castro.
Castro also spoke as his sentencing hearing continued Thursday afternoon in a Cleveland courtroom.
For the first time since the three victims in this case escaped, we are learning details of the horror they somehow survived. Police described their ordeal as almost ten years of constant abuse.
As the hearing began, Ariel Castro briefly mentioned the three women he's confessed to torturing during nearly ten years of captivity.
"I would like to apologize to the victims," he said.
The first word today came from prosecutors describing the horror Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus, and Michelle Knight faced while they were held captive.
Castro has pleaded guilty to kidnapping the three women and to 937 charges in the case including rape, assault and aggravated murder.
"My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has really taken a toll on my mind," Castro said.
Cleveland Police Officer Barbara Johnson was one of the first inside Castro's house the day the three women escaped.
"We later found out it was Michelle Knight as she launched herself into officers' arms. Legs, arms, just choking him and she kept repeating, 'you saved us, you saved us,'" said Johnson.
They were finally saved from what they described in handwritten diaries and later to investigators as constant and continuous abuse.
"Ariel Castro terminated her pregnancies. This was done by starving her, giving rotten food, kicking and punching her in the stomach, jumping up and down on her stomach," said Det. Andrew Harasimchuk, Cleveland Police Department.
Testimony outlining daily beatings and other relentless physical, mental and emotional abuse have been part of the hearing that continues even though the sentence for Castro is already known. He's agreed to a plea deal that will keep him behind bars for the rest of his life..
Still, this day in court is considered essential to protect the official record against any potential appellate issues and perhaps in some way provide a bit of validation and comfort for three women who suffered through and survived unthinkable abuse for nearly a decade.
One of the victims of convicted Cleveland kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro says at his sentencing hearing that she cried every night and that her years in captivity "turned into eternity."
Michelle Knight says she spent 11 years in hell and that Castro's hell is now beginning.
Her appearance is the first time she's been seen publicly since her rescue from the house where she was held captive for 10 years.
The 32-year-old Knight was the first woman abducted by Ariel Castro in 2002 after he lured her into his house with the promise of a puppy for her son.
Castro has pleaded guilty to charges that he repeatedly raped Knight and two other victims, and also forced Knight to miscarry after he impregnated her.
Knight was the only victim to testify. Relatives spoke for the other two victims.
Since their escape, the women have released just one, brief recorded statement as they work to try and reclaim their lives.
"I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and my head held high," said Knight, survivor, in an earlier statement.
Today's sentencing is one of the final, important steps in that difficult walk.
Overnight, Cleveland Police released a copy of a handwritten note from Michelle Knight thanking them for their help and continued support, which included a line that read, "Life is tough, but I'm tougher!"
More than 10,000 people have donated more than a million dollars to a trust fund to help the women during their recovery.
Castro: "Not a monster"
Castro apologized to his victims but also claims most of the sex was consensual.
Castro says he isn't a monster. He says he's sick and addicted to pornography. He says he didn't even plan the first kidnapping.
He says he knows what he did was wrong, but that he's not a violent person and that his captives asked for sex and weren't tortured.
The women described horrific conditions in the home, which Castro turned into a jury-rigged prison.
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