Why Not Interrupting Castro Was A Wise Legal Decision
Yesterday, after convicted kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro spoke at his sentencing hearing, Judge Michael Russo complimented one of his victims on her remarkable restraint.
Social media wasn’t as polite; it exploded with anger, after Castro said things, including that sex in the house where he held three women captive for over a decade was consensual (see transcript excerpts below).
He added that his victims were not virgins when he kidnapped them, that he was abused as a child and that he was sick.
Legal observers are saying that not interrupting his diatribe was a wise decision, removing any possible grounds for appeal.
- Douglas Berman, law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. He tweets @SLandP.
Excerpts of testimony at Castro’s sentencing
Transcribed by the Associated Press
From Castro’s testimony:
People are trying to paint me as a monster, and I’m not a monster. I’m sick. My sexual problems been so bad on my mind, I’m impulsive. … I believe I am addicted to porn, to the point that it really makes me impulsive.
When I picked up the first victim, I hadn’t even planned it that day. … That day I went to Family Dollar, and I heard her, over saying something about she needed to get somewhere and I reacted on that. But when I got up that day, I did not say, “Oh, I’m going to get up and try to find some women.” It wasn’t my character. But I know it’s wrong. I’m not trying to make excuses here. I know I’m 100 percent wrong for doing that.”
I am not a violent person. I know what I did is wrong, but I’m not a violent person. I simply kept them here without being able to leave.
I’m not a monster. I’m a normal person. I am just sick. I have an addiction. Just like an alcoholic has an addiction. Alcoholics cannot control their addiction. That’s why I couldn’t control my addiction.
I would like to apologize to the victims, Amanda Berry, and Gina Dejesus and Michelle Knight. … I am truly sorry for what happened. … I just hope that they can find it in their hearts to forgive me.
I ask God to forgive me, I ask my family and I apologize to my family also for putting them through all this. I want to apologize to the state of Ohio, the city of Cleveland. … I just want to apologize to everyone who was touched by these events.
I do also want to mention that there was harmony in that home. There was harmony in that home. I was a good person. Being brought up, I never had a record. I just hope that they find it in their hearts to forgive me, and to maybe do some research on people who have addictions so they can see how their addiction takes over their lives.
Michelle Knight’s complete statement:
My name is Michelle Knight, and I would like to tell you what 11 years was like for me.
I missed my son every day. I wondered if I would ever see you again. He was only 2 1/2 years old when I was tooken. I look inside my heart and I see my son.
I cried every night. I was so alone. I worried about what would happen to me and the other girls every day.
Days never got shorter. Days turned into nights. Nights turned into days. The years turned into eternity.
I knew nobody cared about me. He told me that my family didn’t care. He tormented me, constantly, even on holidays.
Christmas was the most traumatic day because I never got to spend it with my son.
Nobody should ever have to go through what I went through or anybody else, not even the worstest enemy.
Gina was my teammate. She never let me fall. I never let her fall. She nursed me back to health when I was dying from his abuse. My friendship with her is the only thing that was good out of this situation. We said we would someday make it out alive, and we did.
Ariel Castro, I remember all the times that you came home talking about what everybody else did wrong and act like you wasn’t doing the same thing. You said, “At least I didn’t kill you.”
You took 11 years of my life away and I have got it back. I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that happened, but you will face hell for eternity.
From this moment on I will not let you define me or affect who I am.
I will live on. You will die a little every day. As you think about the 11 years and the atrocities you inflicted on us, what does God think of you hypocritically going to church every Sunday, coming home to torture us.
Death penalty will be so much easier. You don’t deserve that. You deserve to spend life in prison. I can forgive you but I will never forget. With the guidance of God, I will prevail and help others that have suffered at the hands of others. Writing this statement gave me the strength to be a stronger woman, and know that’s there’s more good than evil.
I know that there’s a lot of people going through hard times. But we need to reach out a hand and hold them and let them know that they’re being heard.
After 11 years, I am finally being heard and it’s liberating. Thank you all. I love you. God bless you.
Judge Michael Russo’s statement to Castro:
Sir, there’s no place in this city, there’s no place in this country, indeed there’s no place in this world for those who enslave others, those who sexually assault others or those who brutalize others.
For more than 10 years you have preyed upon three young women. You subjected them to harsh and violent conduct. You felt you were dominating them. But you were incorrect.
You could not take away their dignity. Although they suffered terribly, Miss Knight, Miss DeJesus and Miss Berry did not give up hope. They have persevered. In fact, they’ve prevailed. These remarkable women again have their freedom, which is the most precious aspect of being an American.
Mr. Castro, you forfeited that right. You’ve now become a number with the Department of the Rehabilitation and Correction. You’ll be confined for the remainder of your days.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW. Yesterday, after convicted kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro spoke at his sentencing hearing, Judge Michael Russo complimented Michelle Knight, one of Castro's victims, on her remarkable restraint. Well, social media wasn't as polite. It exploded with anger, after Castro said things like the sex in the West Cleveland house where he held three women captive for over a decade was consensual, that the women were not virgins when he kidnapped them as girls, that he was abused as a child and was sick.
How is it that Ariel Castro was allowed to have the last word, to defame his victims? Well, Doug Berman is a professor of law at Ohio State University in Columbus. And, Doug, first, you say every offender has a constitutional right to speak.
DOUG BERMAN: Yes. It's called the right to allocution. And the sense is that as a part of due process, and often, it's guaranteed by formal criminal statutes, we think it's necessary to allow a criminal defendant, before he's actually going to be sentenced, to have a chance to say something. What's unusual about this case is not only that he, you know, took up that chance, but turned it into something that was a somewhat extreme statement of personal defense, rather than what often happens, which is an expression of remorse or an effort to try to convince the judge that a lesser sentence is appropriate.
YOUNG: You say this is unusual. I'm wondering if there's other prominent cases where you can think of where it's happened. Or is this really an outlier?
BERMAN: It's not an outlier in the sense that - particularly in cases where an extreme sentence is already booked into the proceeding. And so there's nothing the defendant can lose by trying to, you know, sort of justify or say something outrageous. And they think and know to some extent this is their last chance on a public stage. We see other examples of this. Perhaps one of the most recent notorious ones - also from Ohio, as a matter of fact - involved a 17-year-old school shooter, T.J. Lane, who among other things, made a perverse physical gesture towards the victims as they were speaking about the harm they suffered from the loved ones he had killed.
A huge part of what yesterday's proceedings showcased was how important it was for the prosecutors to document through the first part of the hearing all of the horrible things that Ariel Castro did. Because even though he did get the last word, prosecutors made extra sure that that wasn't the only sentiment that was going to be emerging from the sentencing proceeding.
YOUNG: Well, but it's the thing that shot around, you know, the Twittersphere, and it's part of the trial that many people sought. Is there a certain point where, despite a perpetrator's constitutional right to speak, can the judge stop him?
BERMAN: I certainly think the judges have been recognized to have some authority to control their courtroom. But my sense was - and again it's a sense that that the proceedings reinforced - there was a very justifiable view on the part of prosecutors and the judge not to want to do anything that would give Castro any chance to appeal.
What he said - as much as we're troubled terribly by the way he articulated and perhaps further harmed the victims by what he said - to me, could have wonderfully reinforced the wisdom of the way prosecutors handled this case, their willingness to both think about having the death penalty on the table - even though that would have been a tough sell under the circumstances because of the controversial nature of a pregnancy termination being a capital case - but their willingness to talk about that as a possibility in order to encourage his lawyers and Castro himself to be willing to accept a plea deal, and through a plea deal avoid the spectacle that a full trial would have had.
Again, this goes back to these constitutional rights that Castro himself not only would have been permitted to testify at a full trial to try to defend himself, but given what he said yesterday, the sense I had and took away was that at a full trial, he would have essentially put the victims on trial.
BERMAN: And that's why, again, I want to compliment the government here and a group of folks in Cleveland who get criticized - sometimes understandably - for lots of other aspects of this, for making sure that even though Castro got a chance to make these horrible statements, that it only ended up being a few minutes in one court proceeding, and now, we will, in all likelihood, never hear a peep out of him ever again.
YOUNG: Well, I think we need to compliment the victims, as well, because they must have known what might be coming.
BERMAN: I think that's right. I think that's absolutely right. And I think that's where, again, in retrospect, it's not surprising that it was just one victim who chose to be there, actually in court. Typically, they'll all want to be there. And the fact that he was the type of person who was going to be saying these sorts of things, that's something they obviously, you know, knew who he was and how horrible he was.
In another sense, I think we get added understanding of how he could have done this, and how these types of crimes happen because, you know, he thinks of himself not the same kind of monster that, obviously, his actions prove him to be. And so, for all the vitriol that might be justified toward him, I think it would be dangerous and inappropriate to say, well, this shows a problem with our current system.
YOUNG: So, essentially, you're saying that we watched our lauded, admired-around-the-world court system at work.
BERMAN: Yup. Yeah. I think that's right. And I think, again, that's where you can't let that first-cut emotion eclipse the sort of broader perspective. You know, I think in a weird way, his distorted belief that he wasn't so horrible makes me feel not better about what he did, but at least helps me to understand more how somebody could, you know, treat three young women this way for a decade.
YOUNG: The judge actually had the last word. And we should say that he said excuses don't take away the harm that's involved. You have extreme narcissism, and it seems rather pervasive, and then proceeded to hand down life plus a thousand years. That's Doug Berman. He's professor of law at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Professor Berman, thanks so much.
BERMAN: Thank you.
YOUNG: And, of course, we'd love your thoughts. Does that explanation satisfy you? Let us know at hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.