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Longest-held Cleveland captive now out of hospital, in seclusion

CLEVELAND - An Ohio prosecutor vowed on Thursday to seek murder charges that could carry the death penalty against a former Cleveland school bus driver accused of kidnapping and raping three young women who endured a decade as captives in his house.
CLEVELAND - An Ohio prosecutor vowed on Thursday to seek murder charges that could carry the death penalty against a former Cleveland school bus driver accused of kidnapping and raping three young women who endured a decade as captives in his house.

By Daniel Trotta and Kevin Gray

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Michelle Knight, freed earlier this week as the longest-held of four captives in a dungeon-like Cleveland house, was discharged from the hospital on Friday and went into seclusion.

Two other women held with Knight - Amanda Berry, 27, and Gina DeJesus, 23, along with a 6-year-old girl - left the hospital earlier this week and have been reunited with their families.

Knight, 32, who is estranged from some of her family members according to her grandmother, was released early Friday afternoon from MetroHealth Medical Center, which issued a plea to respect her privacy.

DNA tests released on Friday, meanwhile, identified their tormentor Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver charged with kidnap and rape in the decade-long abduction ordeal, as the father of the girl, who was born in captivity to Berry, the Ohio attorney general said on Friday.

Castro, 52, was arrested shortly after the four captives were found in his house in a run-down neighborhood of Cleveland on Monday.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement that forensic scientists obtained a sample of Castro's DNA late Thursday afternoon and "worked throughout the night to confirm that Castro is the father of the six-year-old girl born in captivity to one of the kidnapping victims."

Berry's baby was born in a plastic inflatable children's swimming pool on Christmas Day, 2006, authorities have said. Knight told police she delivered the baby under Castro's orders and after threatening to kill her if the baby died, she performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the newborn when it stopped breathing during the birth, according to a police report.

The FBI is checking Castro's DNA sample against national cases, DeWine said. Local authorities have said Castro is not a suspect in other cases.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor vowed on Thursday to seek murder charges, which could carry the death penalty, against Castro because police say there is evidence Knight suffered forced miscarriages.

Knight had at least five miscarriages that she told police were intentionally caused by Castro starving her and beating her in the abdomen, according to an initial police report.

Before her discharge from the hospital, Knight was described as "in good spirits" in a statement released by MetroHealth.

"She is especially thankful for the Cleveland Courage Fund," said the statement, referring to a charity set up to gather funds for the kidnapping victims. "She asks that everyone please continue to respect her privacy at this time."

'LIKE A HORROR MOVIE'

During their captivity, police said, the women endured beatings, rapes and at times confinement in ropes and chains.

Investigators found a lengthy note written by Castro in the house detailing his own sexual abuse and talking about suicide, a city councilman said on Friday.

"He alluded to his own sexual abuse.... Presumably it was when he was young," said Councilman Brian Cummins, who said he was briefed by someone who read the note. "And if he was to carry out his suicide, he wanted to split the money from his house between the three women."

Castro also wrote "it was the victims' fault" that they were abducted, "deflecting the blame away from himself," Cummins said.

All three told police this week that they were abducted by Castro when they accepted his offers of a ride in the same West Side Cleveland neighborhood where they were found.

Their imprisonment came to an end when neighbors, alerted by cries for help, broke through a locked door of Castro's house and freed Berry, who had disappeared the day before her 17th birthday in 2003 on her way home from work at a fast-food restaurant.

DeJesus vanished at age 14 after school in 2004 and Knight was 20 when she went missing in 2002. Family members told Reuters that Knight was a single mother who had lost custody of her young son to child welfare authorities and some relatives thought she had run away from home.

Police removed Knight's name from an FBI missing persons database 15 months after she was reported missing in 2002 because they were unable to contact a family member to find out if she had been found, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. Her mother now lives in Florida.

Castro's daughter Angie Gregg told CNN she had been in her father's house several times and noticed nothing suspicious.

Looking back, however, she said, he always played loud music, would not let her upstairs to see her old bedroom and kept the basement locked.

"It's like a horror movie," she said.

About two months ago, he showed her a photograph of a little girl he said was his girlfriend's daughter. Gregg said she thought at the time that the girl resembled her younger sister Emily but did not give it much more thought.

"But when I first saw the picture of Amanda in the hospital bed with the little girl on TV, I knew that was her because I never forgot that face," she said.

She also said she will never speak to her father again.

"He's dead to me," she said. "He's nothing but a memory anymore."

PROSECUTOR TO SEEK EXPANDED CHARGES

Castro made his first court appearance on Thursday to face three counts of rape and four counts of kidnapping brought by the city attorney's office, and he was ordered to remain in custody on an $8 million bond.

County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who has jurisdiction over all felony cases for Cleveland, said he intends to expand the charges.

"I fully intend to seek charges for each and every act of sexual violence, rape, each day of kidnapping, every felonious assault, and each act of aggravated murder for terminating pregnancies that the offender perpetrated," he said.

Under Ohio law, the crime of aggravated murder includes the unlawful termination of a pregnancy and is a capital offense.

Castro's court-appointed lawyer, Kathleen DeMetz, said her client would be placed on suicide watch in jail and was expected to be held in isolation.

In order to win release on bail, he would need $800,000 cash - 10 percent of the bond amount.

Berry told police that her escape on Monday had been her first chance to break free in the 10 years that she was held, seizing the opportunity during Castro's momentary absence.

(Additional reporting by Kim Palmer and Mary Wisniewski; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Grant McCool, Bernard Orr)

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