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Cleveland kidnap suspect must take competency test: judge

Ariel Castro sits with his head down between his attorneys Jaye Schlachet (R) and Craig Weintraub (L) during his pre-trial hearing on charge
Ariel Castro sits with his head down between his attorneys Jaye Schlachet (R) and Craig Weintraub (L) during his pre-trial hearing on charge

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A former Cleveland school bus driver accused of imprisoning three women in his home for a decade must submit to testing to determine if he understands the proceedings in his case and can assist in his own defense, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

Ariel Castro, 52, has pleaded not guilty to more than 300 charges against him, including rape and kidnapping and is expected to face more charges in the imprisonment of Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32.

Castro also is charged with aggravated murder for impregnating Knight between November 2006 and February 2007 and forcing her to miscarry by assaulting her, a charge that carries a possible death sentence.

Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said at a hearing in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court that he did not object to competency testing, but Castro "isn't in any way incompetent."

In the recordings of statements Castro made to authorities after his arrest, there is "no doubt from the hours of tape that he is competent and knows what he is doing now and knew what he was doing then," McGinty added.

Castro is being held in county jail on $8 million bail. According to jail logs, he has been refusing to shower or change his prison-issued clothing.

Judge Michael Russo said he wants court psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Resnick to assess Castro before the next hearing, scheduled for July 3. The trial is scheduled to begin August 4.

"I have to make sure whatever he does here ... will stand up in the future," the judge said.

Prosecutors said more charges are expected in the "very near future" after a grand jury convenes in the matter.

Attorneys representing the three women held captive said they are anxious the legal process quickly comes to an end.

"The longer this process lasts, the more painful it is for them. And the more sordid details of this horror that get disclosed in this process, the more painful it is for them," Kathy Joseph, Knight's attorney, said in a statement.

The initial indictment against Castro covered five years from August 2002, when Knight disappeared, to early 2007.

Charges have not been filed in relation to Berry's 6-year-old daughter, who authorities have said he fathered.

Prosecutors have indicated they may seek the death penalty for the aggravated murder charges and Castro's attorney, Craig Weintraub, has said the defense was willing to discuss a plea agreement to avoid the possibility of capital punishment.

Weintraub would not comment on the matter Wednesday.

Ohio is one of 38 U.S. states that have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Berry disappeared the day before her 17th birthday in 2003 after leaving her job at a Burger King restaurant. DeJesus was 14 when she went missing while on her way home from school in 2004. Knight disappeared in 2002 at age 20.

The women and the child were rescued on May 6 after Berry discovered an unlocked inside door at the house that allowed her to get close enough to the exterior to call out to neighbors, who helped her break free.

Cleveland police responded and found DeJesus and Knight inside Castro's house on the west side of Cleveland.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer.; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Lisa Shumaker, Ellen Wulfhorst and Andre Grenon)

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