CHICAGO, Illinois (AFP) - A US bus driver who kidnapped and raped three women for a decade in his Ohio home came face-to-face with one of his victims Thursday in an emotional courtroom scene as he was sentenced to life in prison.
Ariel Castro's vain pleas that he was not a "monster" fell on deaf ears, as Judge Michael Russo imposed a sentence of life in prison and an additional 1,000 years of consecutive jail time.
"Sir, there is no place in this city, there is no place in this country and indeed there is no place in this world for those who enslave others, those who sexually assault others and those who brutalize others," Russo said.
"A person can only die in prison once."
Castro, 53, pleaded guilty last week after prosecutors agreed to take the death penalty off the table.
A tearful Michelle Knight, who was snatched off a Cleveland street in 2002 at the age of 20, welcomed the deal, noting in emotional testimony before the court that death would have been "so much easier" for her tormenter.
"I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning," Knight told Castro as he awaited his sentence.
In a rambling quasi-apology to his victims -- only Knight was present in the courtroom -- Castro claimed he had acted on impulse as a result of sexual addiction.
"I am not a monster. I was sick," Castro said.
Castro said he still could not understand what had driven him to hold the three women captive, but insisted "there was harmony in that home."
He also insisted the women were lying when they said he beat and raped them, declaring "I am not a violent person" and that "most of the sex" was "consensual."
The case came to light after Amanda Berry, 27, managed to escape with her six-year-old daughter by calling out to a neighbor for help through a locked front door on May 6.
More than 92 pounds (42 kilos) of chains were found in the filthy, darkened home where the women were kept in locked rooms with boarded-up windows.
Even more horrifying were the stories the thin, pale and bruised women told upon their release.
"The damage that was done was a life sentence," psychiatrist Frank Ochberg testified.
Lured into the car of a man they knew as the father of a friend or classmate at the ages of 20, 16, and 14, Knight, Berry and Gina DeJesus suffered violent beatings and repeated rapes.
They were fed just once a day and rarely given access to the bathroom, instead having to relieve themselves in plastic buckets that were "emptied infrequently," prosecutors said in a sentencing memo.
Knight was impregnated four times during her 11 years of captivity.
Castro terminated her pregnancies by starving her for days, feeding her rotten food and then kicking and jumping on her stomach, testified Detective Andy Harasimchuk, who interviewed Knight upon her release.
Berry was allowed to carry a pregnancy to term, giving birth in a plastic kiddie pool on Christmas Day, 2006.
Castro would sometimes toss money at his victims after they were raped, which they could then give back to him if they wanted something special from the store, FBI Special Agent Andrew Burke testified.
He also made the women play Russian Roulette with a handgun he used as a constant threat.
Cleveland police officer Barb Johnson testified about the shock and sheer joy the women expressed when they were finally freed.
As she searched the darkened house with a fellow officer shortly after Berry was able to escape, they heard a "pitter-patter" of feet in response to their calls of "Cleveland Police."
When the sound stopped, Johnson shined a light on herself so the approaching woman could see they really were police, at which point Knight "literally launched herself" into the other officer's arms.
"Legs, arms, just choking him," Johnson said.
"And she just kept repeating: 'You saved us, you saved us.'"
DeJesus was initially too afraid to leave her room, Johnson added.
Prosecutors said they relied on diaries kept by the women during their lengthy captivity to substantiate many of the 977 criminal charges lodged against Castro.
The entries spoke of "being treated like an animal," of "anticipating the next session of abuse," and of "his threats to kill," prosecutors said.
The women also wrote of "dreams of some day escaping and being reunited with family," of "missing the lives they once enjoyed" and of their overwhelming desire for freedom.
DNA tests showed that Castro fathered Berry's child. He has repeatedly asked to see her, a request the judge deemed "inappropriate."
Police do not understand why none of the people who visited the unassuming house at 2207 Seymour -- including Castro's family and girlfriend -- realized what was going on there.
Berry and DeJesus sent family members to speak on their behalf at the sentencing hearing and repeat their requests for privacy.
Russo joined many of the witnesses in praising the women for their resilience and courage.
"Although they suffered terribly, Ms. Knight, Ms. DeJesus and Ms. Berry did not give up hope. They persevered and in fact they prevailed," Russo said."We wish each of you success and a sense of peace."