US & Canada

Cleveland kidnaps: Ariel Castro faces 329 charges

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Media captionAriel Castro faces a total of 329 charges

A man accused of imprisoning three women for about a decade in his home in Cleveland, Ohio, has been indicted by a grand jury for rape and kidnapping.

Ariel Castro faces 329 charges, with 139 counts of rape, 177 of kidnapping, seven of gross sexual imposition, three of assault, and owning criminal tools.

The 52-year-old also faces two counts of aggravated murder for terminating one of the women's pregnancies.

The women were Michelle Knight, 32, Amanda Berry, 27, and Gina DeJesus, 23.

Last month, the suspect was charged with three counts of rape and four of kidnapping, which includes a six-year-old girl he fathered with Ms Berry.

'Off suicide watch'

Mr Castro is due to be formally arraigned on the new charges next week, when a trial judge will also be appointed to his case, prosecutors said.

Image caption Left to right: Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight (WOIO / CBS image) and Amanda Berry

He will plead not guilty to any indictment, his legal team has said.

The accused is being held on $8m (£5m) bail. Prison officials said this week he had been taken off suicide watch.

"Today's indictments represent a first major step in the criminal justice process," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said in a statement.

"Our investigation continues, and we will present our findings to the grand jury."

After the indictment is complete, a committee would consider whether to press for the death penalty in this case, the prosecutor's statement said.

Ms Berry, who disappeared in 2003 the day before her 17th birthday, escaped from Mr Castro's house on 6 May with the help of a neighbour.

The other women were then freed from the house. They were all reportedly abducted after accepting car rides from Mr Castro.

After her release, Ms Berry told the authorities she was forced to give birth in a plastic pool in his house, as it was easier to clean up.

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Media captionResidents of Lorain Avenue, where the three girls went missing, discuss the impact of the case

Ms Knight said her five pregnancies ended after her captor starved her for at least two weeks and "repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried", according to the authorities.

She also said she was forced to help Ms Berry with the delivery of her daughter and was threatened with death if the infant did not survive. The baby stopped breathing and Ms Knight used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to save it, authorities said.

Ms Knight vanished in 2002 when she was 20. Ms DeJesus was 14 when she went missing in April 2004.