Ariel Castro pleads not guilty in his first court appearance June 12, 2013.
Ariel Castro, the 52-year-old former school bus driver accused of holding three Cleveland women captive for more than a decade, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to nearly 1,000 rape, kidnapping and sexual abuse charges.
Castro, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, kept his head cast down and his eyes closed as he stood at the podium flanked by his attorneys before Judge Pamela Barker. She repeatedly ordered Castro to pick up his head and open his eyes as she explained his rights.
When Barker asked if he understood the court proceedings and his rights, Castro said, "Uh, huh, yes," and nodded his head. The judge reaffirmed bail set at $8 million.
Judge Michael Russo, who will preside over Castro's trial, has scheduled jury selection for Aug. 5.
Castro faces 977 charges as he goes on trial next month, including 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape and seven counts of sexual abuse. Castro is also charged with two counts of aggravated murder for allegedly beating one of the women so severely that she lost a pregnancy. He also faces six counts of assault, three counts of child endangerment and one count of possessing criminal tools.
The two aggravated murder charges stem from a single instance during the fourth pregnancy of Michelle Knight, who was the first woman to disappear. One aggravated murder charge alleges premeditation. The second alleges that the murder took place during a kidnapping.
The state could seek the death penalty for the two counts of aggravated murder. The prosecutor's Capital Review Committee is scheduled to evaluate the case later this month. If convicted of the other charges, Castro would face life in prison.
The indictment covers the entire period of captivity, from the Aug. 22, 2002, disappearance of Knight to May 6, when Amanda Berry, missing since April 21, 2003, and her child escaped Castro's Cleveland house and led police to Knight and Gina DeJesus, missing since April 2, 2004.
In a previous hearing, Castro asked to see the 6-year-old girl he fathered with Berry. The judge denied the request.
The new charges, lodged last week, replace an earlier indictment, which charged Castro in June with 329 counts and covered the first four years of the women's captivity.