Cleveland, OH — Ariel Castro pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to a massive new 977-count indictment. Castro has been accused of kidnapping three Cleveland women and raping them repeatedly while he held them captive for a decade.
Judge Pamela Barker also appeared to reprimand Castro, 53, during the hearing, asking him to keep his eyes open while he pleaded not guilty.
NBC News reports that Barker stated, “Mr. Castro, would you please look at me, sir. I need to make sure you understand what I’m saying.” She repeated the request later on, saying, “Mr. Castro again, you must look at me, sir. Can you open your eyes, please?”
Ariel Castro was arrested on May 6 after police rescued Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Berry’s young daughter from Castro’s home. The trio disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004 when they were 14, 16, and 20 years old, respectively.
The initial indictment against Castro included 329 charges. However, it appears the initial charges only covered part of the time the girls spent in captivity.
The new indictment against Castro covers 11 years and includes two aggravated murder charges, which were on the previous indictment as well. The murder charges stem from allegations that Ariel Castro purposefully caused one of the girls to miscarry. The Boston Globe notes that the charges carry a possible death sentence if the 53-year-old is convicted.
Ariel Castro’s latest not guilty plea comes one week after the three women appeared in a YouTube video to thank supporters who have donated to a fund for them. They also asked for continued privacy as they recover from their kidnappings.
Ariel Castro’s trial is scheduled to begin on August 5. However, it could be delayed if the defense requests additional preparation time. The defense has also previously hinted that Castro would plead guilty if the death penalty is taken off the table.
In the years following their disappearances, Ariel Castro remained friends with the DeJesus family and attended vigils over the years that marked her disappearance. There is no word on whether or not the girls will testify at Castro’s trial, though it is likely they will.