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By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The Ohio man accused of holding three young women captive in his Cleveland house for a decade pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to more than 300 criminal charges including rape, kidnapping and murder.
Former school bus driver Ariel Castro, 52, was indicted last week on 329 charges for the kidnapping and confinement of the women, who were freed from his house on May 6 along with a 6-year-old girl he fathered with one of his captives.
Cleveland was elated by the news that the three women, Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27, had been found alive after years of searches and vigils.
In a court appearance to answer the charges on Wednesday, Castro kept his head down while his lawyer entered a plea of not guilty and waived a reading of the 142-page indictment. Castro is charged with aggravated murder in the assault and impregnation of Knight between November 2006 and February 2007 and forcing her to miscarry, according to the indictment.
A police report said that Castro caused Knight to suffer at least five miscarriages by starving her and beating her in the abdomen.
He is being held on an $8 million bond.
The charges against Castro cover the period from August 2002, when Knight disappeared, into 2007. More charges are possible as the criminal investigation continues, according to Cuyahoga County prosecutors.
A committee will consider seeking the death penalty after a complete indictment is issued, prosecutors said. Ohio is one of 38 states that have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Berry was freed along with her 6-year-old daughter by neighbors from Castro's house. Berry disappeared the day before her 17th birthday in 2003 after leaving her job at a Burger King restaurant. Police say DNA tests prove Castro is the father of her child.
Cleveland police responded to Berry's 911 call and found DeJesus and Knight inside the house. DeJesus was 14 when she disappeared on her way home from school in 2004.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Grant McCool)