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Ariel Castro pleads not guilty; defense hints at no trial

5:54 PM, Jun 12, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Ariel Castro pleads not guilty to 329 charges

Video: Ariel Castro pleads not guilty; lawyer makes statement to media

Video: Analysis: Ariel Castro pleads 'not guilty'

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CLEVELAND --  Ariel Castro entered a plea of not guilty to 329 criminal counts during a very brief court arraignment this morning.

Afterwards, his defense team hinted a trial could be avoided with a plea if the possibility of the death penalty is removed.

Handcuffed and dressed in an orange prison jump suit, Castro kept his head down and his eyes averted during the proceeding that lasted about one minute.

Castro did not speak during the court hearing. His lawyer entered the not guilty plea on Castro's behalf. 

The judge continued Castro's bond at $8 million.

Castro also waived the reading of the indictment which could have made for a much longer court proceeding.  He is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on June 19.  The case has been assigned to Judge Michael Russo.

A grand jury indicted Castro June 7 on the  329 counts, including aggravated murder, kidnapping and rape.

Photos: Cleveland women found alive

The aggravated murder charges, prosecutors say, are connected to Castro's alleged termination of one of the women's pregnancies. 

Following the arraignment, Castro's attorney, Craig Weintraub, made the following statement about the charges against his client and specifically the charge of aggravated murder:

"The arraignment marks the first step in the formal legal process. Although certain charges in the indictment cannot be disputed, a not guilty plea at this stage requires the prosecutor to continue to evaluate their case to determine whether medical and forensic evidence can actually support an aggravated murder conviction, for the death of a fetus, and whether the death penalty is warranted. In all likelihood the prosecutor's decision will be predicated on the opinion of medical and forensic experts, and more importantly, whether the women in this case want this case to go to trial on those limited issues. We are very sensitive to the emotional strain and impact that a trial would have on the women, their families and this community. Mr. Castro currently faces hundreds of years in prison with the current charges and it is our hope that we can continue to work towards a resolution to avoid having an unnecessary trial about aggravated murder and the death penalty."

The prosecutor's office says it's reviewing the defense comments.

Jim Wooley, attorney for Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, and speaking on behalf of the third survivor, Michelle Knight, issued this statement following the court hearing:

"We understand the legal process needs to run its course. That said, days like today are not easy. We are hopeful for a just and prompt resolution. We have great faith in the prosecutor's office and the court."

Castro is accused of kidnapping Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight and holding them captive in his Seymour Avenue home for a decade.

The women were rescued on May 6, after Amanda Berry managed to break out of the house and run to the neighbors for help.

Prosecutor's say they expect Castro to be indicted on additional charges.  The current indictment covers just the period from 2002 to 2007.

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