Ariel Castro, a 53-year old former school bus driver, agreed on Friday, July 26, 2013, in Cuyahoga County Court, Cleveland Ohio, to a plea of life plus "not less than 1,000 years" with no chance of parole for 937 counts of kidnapping, rape, and other heinous crimes against victims Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus. One of the charges included the aggravated murder of a fetus after Castro caused an abortion in one of the victims that he allegedly impregnated. That charge would have carried the death penalty.
The three female victims were abducted between 2002 and 2004 when they were 14, 16, and 20 years old and had not been heard from in a decade. On May 6, 2013, they escaped Castro’s house at 2207 Seymour Avenue, on Cleveland’s lower west side, when one of the women kicked out part of a door and called the neighbors for help. Castro was arrested shortly thereafter.
In court on Friday, Judge Michael Russo asked Castro, "You understand by accepting this plea, you’re accepting life without parole. You’ll never leave prison alive." "Yes, I do," replied Castro. Castro said he read and signed the plea deal and understood it although "my addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has taken a toll on my mind."
The victims, through their spokesperson, stated that they did not want to testify at trial and wanted to put everything behind them. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty stated that once Castro goes to prison "he’s only coming out in a box or an ash can."
What Does Life Without Parole Mean?
Life without parole means that Castro will not be able to leave prison – ever. It means taxpayers will pay to house, feed, clothe, and take care of Castro for the rest of his life. According to the Ohio Department and Rehabilitation, it costs over $25,000/year to imprison an inmate in Ohio. Should Castro live another 25 years, Ohio taxpayers will shell out $625,000 just to house, feed, clothe, and take care of him in jail. And this does not account for defending and prosecuting him, and defendants like him, which costs taxpayers thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars more depending on the type of crimes, appeals process, and other factors.
What are some other options?
Option 1: No pleas. Take all defendants to trial for heinous crimes like Castro that are worthy of the death penalty. This is the policy of certain prosecutor offices in the United States. It is a policy decision. However, what is the cost to prosecute, defend, and ultimately carry out a death penalty case? It is much more expensive than life without parole. Why? Because with a death penalty case, there is almost always an extremely lengthy and costly appeals process.
Option 2: Make Castro or his family pay for his needs. This is done in some other countries, albeit it is likely a violation of human rights. What if Castro or his family cannot pay? He doesn’t eat. He can then choose the death penalty if he cannot afford to pay for his crimes. This option is the harshest, and numerous constitutional issues can arise. However, in a society with limited resources, cities going bankrupt (i.e. Detroit), limited job prospects for law-abiding citizens, and more debt than anyone knows what to do with, is it an option that should be considered?
Option 3: Make Castro pay every penny back through work. And when he cannot pay – he doesn’t eat. This is tied into Option 2.
Option 4: Completely overhaul the current broken and overly costly appeals process for death row and similar type cases. Make the process simpler, cheaper, quicker, and more just – i.e. a lengthy appeals process does not carry out justice, rather, it eviscerates justice because it is not carried out with swiftness and directness. This option would take a tremendous amount of insightful thought, work, and energy from legislatures, an informed citizenry, and the criminal justice system. Do we have what it takes to make this a reality?
Option 5: A combination of any of the above options.
The Bottom Line:
In a criminal justice system that is already half-broken in many respects, a plea is likely the best option. A plea saves time and money, the anguish of victims having to relive the horror of the crimes through trial, and it gets a fairly good result, i.e. life without parole. However, the plea is just the beginning. Taxpayers will now be given a large bill – that of taking care of Castro for the rest of his life and paying prosecutors and defenders for Castro for the rest of his life.
Until a more efficient, simpler, and better-equipped justice system is designed, offering no plea and going for the death penalty may not be the best option.
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Photo. ABCNews.com 26 Jul. 2013. 28 Jul. 2013