Ariel Castro — the Cleveland, Ohio school bus driver who kidnapped and held three women captive for 10 years — was found dead in his prison cell just one month after a judge sentenced him to life in prison plus 1,000 years without parole.
Castro’s mental health as well as the mental health of his victims have been a constant source of debate since the women escaped his captivity earlier this year. Now, after Castro pleaded with the court that he had a severe addiction and needed help, a longtime question of the criminal justice system’s handling of people with mental health issues inevitably comes back to the forefront. Are we punishing people for being mentally ill?
"I'm not a monster,” Castro pleaded with a court last month at his sentencing. “I am a normal person. I have an addiction. I'm sick.”
In June, before his trial, a judge did order a psychiatric evaluation and competency test for Castro. But after the examinations, Judge Michael Russo deemed Castro mentally fit to stand trial. After striking a plea bargain that would allow him to avoid the death penalty, Castro’s victim Michelle Knight stood before the court and told of the horrors she experienced at the hands of the kidnapper. In response, Castro said that he experienced sexual abuse as a child and that his sickness was not unlike that of an alcoholic or drug addict.
"My sexual problem is so bad on my mind. I'm impulsive... I began to practice the art masturbation and pornography. It got so bad that I used to do it two to three hours a day nonstop," said Castro. "And when I would finish, I would just collapse."
In the end, it was the statements and experiences of the three girls that prevailed. Castro was sentenced to life in prison.
Fifty-three-year-old Castro was found hanging in his cell at 9:20 p.m. on Tuesday. He was pronounced dead at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center at 10:52 p.m.
Ohio State Police and Dept. of Corrections are investigating the kidnapper’s death. He was kept in protective custody due to the high-profile nature of his case. And he was subject to checks every 30 minutes. According to Fox News, a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Corrections told reporters that Castro was not on suicide watch. But should he have been?
Castro’s attorney, though not forthcoming on his opinions about his former client’s death, did say that he believed Castro had a mental disorder. In an interview last month, attorney Jaye Schlachet said that Castro fit the profile of someone with a sociopathic disorder. He hoped that researchers would study Castro to find ways to stop predators before they do the vile things that warrant such severe punishment.