The Cleveland man accused of imprisoning and torturing three women for a decade agreed Friday to plead guilty and serve a life sentence - sparing the city an agonizing trial and perhaps the women from reliving their nightmare on the witness stand.
Under a plea agreement outlined in court, Ariel Castro will agree to a life sentence without parole, plus 1,000 years. The deal allows him to avoid the death penalty and forestalls a trial that was scheduled to start in two weeks.
Castro was accused of abducting the women from the Cleveland streets between 2002 and 2004, then holding them in his home for a decade, raping and impregnating them and sometimes chaining them in the basement.
The three - Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight - escaped in May after Berry broke partway through a door and screamed for help while Castro was out of the house.
Castro faced 977 criminal counts, including attempted murder, a charge brought by Ohio prosecutors after one of the women told investigators that Castro forced her to miscarry by punching her in the stomach.
He pleaded not guilty July 17 at a hearing in which the judge had to ask him to keep his eyes open. Prosecutors said they were considering the death penalty but never announced a decision.
Asked at a hearing Friday whether he understood the implications of the deal, Castro said: "I knew I was going to get pretty much the book thrown at me."
The women broke their silence in a three-minute video July 9. In it, Knight said: "I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground."
On Thursday, when news of a possible plea deal surfaced, a lawyer for Knight told NBC News that the women just wanted the matter to come to a speedy conclusion.