With the desperate escape attempt of a terrified woman, America discovered the boogeyman alive and well and living in Cleveland.
The name Ariel Castro has become synonymous with evil after the discovery of three kidnapped young women held hostage in his home for a decade. When Amanda Berry took advantage of an opportunity to cry for help, she and two other women, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus, were rescued from captivity. Knight was reported missing in 2002, Berry in 2003, and DeJesus in 2004. With them was a new captive, Berry’s 6-year-old daughter Jocelyn, fathered by Castro in one of the many rapes he is accused of committing against Berry. The survivors of the abductions detail countless acts of horror and violence, kept in captivity and forced to endure rape, starvation, and beating. According to her grandmother, Michelle Knight was beaten so viciously that she has lost hearing in one ear and must undergo facial reconstruction.
Knight also says that, as a result of her rape, she became pregnant five times. Each time, she says, Castro starved her and beat her so savagely that she miscarried. Then, when Berry became pregnant, he forced her to help deliver the baby, threatening her with death if the baby did not survive.
Castro has admitted his crimes, although he is said to blame the women for their own kidnappings, and he calls himself both a sex addict and a sexual predator. He has been charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. However, because of the alleged miscarriages, Ohio prosecutor Tim McGinty is considering additional charges of aggravated murder for fetal homicide. Why these additional charges when there is already enough evidence to support several life sentences for Castro? Because in Ohio, aggravated murder occurring during a kidnapping is a capital offense. That means Ariel Castro could face the death penalty.
And most Americans are so appalled by the atrocities Castro is said to have committed that they are in support of maximum penalties. Castro, many say, is a monster, and he deserves to pay with his life.
But putting the death penalty on the table is not so much a matter of what anyone feels Castro deserves, it is a matter of the law and whether McGinty’s legal maneuvering makes sense.
Ohio law includes unlawful termination of a pregnancy as aggravated murder, so McGinty is working within existing laws to potentially bring capital charges against Castro. Ironically, Ariel Castro was kept under suicide watch while the Cuyahoga County prosecutor considers whether to attempt to have him sentenced to death.
Unfortunately for the prosecution, there is no physical evidence to support the murder charges. How does one prove there was a pregnancy, much less five? How does one determine which of these alleged miscarriages were the result of violence and neglect, rather than naturally occurring spontaneous miscarriage, which occur in ten to twenty percent of all known pregnancies?
Unlike typical fetal homicide cases, in which a miscarriage occurs soon after the assault or murder of the mother, in this case, there is no known proximity between the abuse and the miscarriages.
The question is not whether Castro deserves the death penalty. It is not whether McGinty is within his rights to charge Castro with aggravated murder. It is whether doing so will cause unnecessary expense to taxpayers and unnecessary trauma to the victims during prolonged appeals. It is whether a prosecutor is grandstanding to assuage the fears and vengeance of a horrified nation.
It is unlikely that any jury will think Michelle Knight is lying about her abuse and miscarriages. However, the “preponderance of evidence” necessary to support a civil case is not enough to support an aggravated murder conviction, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not enough to believe that Castro is guilty of aggravated murder; it must be proven.
Monster? Yes. Murderer? Probably. But adding aggravated murder charges unsubstantiated by physical evidence seems to be unnecessary and futile.