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A Cleveland man accused of holding three young women captive for a decade pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of kidnapping, rape and murder for beating one victim until she miscarried.
Ariel Castro, 52, could face the death penalty if convicted of the aggravated murder charge, which is a capital offense in Ohio if it occurs in connection with a kidnapping.
Castro shuffled into the courtroom in an orange prison jumpsuit with his head bowed and did not say a word. His lawyers entered the plea on his behalf.
The stunning case came to light after Amanda Berry, 27, managed to escape with her six-year-old daughter by calling out to a neighbor for help through a locked front door.
Police found two more women huddled in the house: Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32. All three had been snatched in separate incidents in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Most US states have fetal homicide laws which allow prosecutors to punish those who harm pregnant women while also protecting the woman's right to carry out a lawful abortion.
However, Castro's lawyers questioned whether there was sufficient "medical and forensic evidence" to prove that he forcibly terminated the pregnancies.
"It is our hope that we can continue to work toward a resolution to avoid having an unnecessary trial about aggravated murder and the death penalty," defense attorney Craig Weintraub told reporters.
"We are very sensitive to the emotional strain and impact that a trial would have on the women, their families and this community."
Kidnapping and rape are not capital offenses despite the horrifying ordeal imposed on the three women, who were snatched off the street with promises of rides home at the ages of 14, 16 and 20.
The 329-count indictment handed down last week offered a glimpse of their suffering even though it only covers the first five years of their captivity.
Knight -- who was the first to be snatched -- was chained to a post in the basement, repeatedly raped and beaten, and impregnated at least four times.
Berry tried to escape the night she was kidnapped but was overpowered and then raped, according to the indictment.
Her legs and mouth were bound with tape, she was chained to a pole in the basement and Castro put a motorcycle helmet on her head, the indictment said. At one point that night, he wrapped a vacuum cord around her neck.
DeJesus was also chained and bound with tape in the basement, and was beaten and sexually assaulted on the night she was kidnapped. But it was about a month before Castro forced the 14-year-old to have sexual intercourse.
A leaked police report revealed even more horrifying details.
Knight told police that she was impregnated on five different occasions and that Castro "would make her abort the baby," the police report read.
"He starved her for at least two weeks and then repeatedly punched her in stomach until she miscarried."
Castro brought in a plastic kiddie pool and forced Berry to give birth in it on Christmas Day, 2006, the women told police. He forced Knight to assist and told her "if baby died... he'd kill her."
At one point during the terrifying ordeal, the newborn girl stopped breathing and Knight "breathed for her," giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A DNA test proved that the child is Castro's daughter.
The women said they were chained in the basement during their early years of captivity, but eventually were allowed to live unchained upstairs behind locked doors.
Police do not yet know why none of the people who visited the unassuming house at 2207 Seymour -- including Castro's family -- realized what was going on there.
"Ariel kept everybody at a distance," deputy police chief Ed Tomba said shortly after the arrest.
"The control that he may have had over those girls, we don't know that yet. I think that's going to be -- take us a long time to figure that out."