By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Prosecutors want to bring additional charges as soon as possible against a former Cleveland school-bus driver accused of holding three women captive in his home and torturing them for a decade, authorities said on Wednesday.
Ariel Castro, 52, has pleaded not guilty to more than 300 charges against him including rape and kidnapping in connection with the imprisonment of Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32. The women were rescued in May from Castro's house along with Berry's 6-year-old daughter.
Now prosecutors expect to present evidence to a grand jury in the next two weeks to add more charges against Castro, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said during a brief pre-trial hearing.
The indictment against Castro includes 139 counts of rape and 177 counts of kidnapping, and covers the period from August 2002, when Knight disappeared, to early 2007. He has not yet faced charges related to the daughter.
"We expect that we are going to request further indictments to cover the additional period and we are going to close that process as soon as possible," McGinty told the court.
Castro, held in a county jail on an $8 million bail, wore orange prison clothing and kept his head lowered during the brief hearing. He gave one-word answers to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael Russo's questions about whether he understood the legal process and his rights.
The indictment also charges Castro with aggravated murder for impregnating Knight between November 2006 and February 2007 and forcing her to miscarry by assaulting her. McGinty has said he would seek a death penalty specification.
A committee will consider seeking the death penalty after a complete indictment is issued, prosecutors have said. Ohio is one of 38 U.S. states that have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Castro's attorney, Craig Weintraub, has made it clear in a number of statements to the media that he is willing to discuss a plea agreement with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty.
"As I mentioned in our statement after the arraignment, we are very concerned about having the women go through the stress of a trial," Weintraub told reporters after Wednesday's hearing. "It is not our intent to have to do that."
Russo told the attorneys that a plea agreement was out of the question considering the number of counts and charges against Castro.
Cleveland police responded to Berry's 911 call on May 6 and found DeJesus and Knight inside the house. Berry had disappeared the day before her 17th birthday in 2003 after leaving her job at a Burger King restaurant. DeJesus was 14 when she disappeared on her way home from school in 2004.
Authorities have said DNA testing proves Castro fathered Berry's daughter.
Russo set the trial date as August 4 in the case, but said defense attorneys could request additional time. Another pre-trial hearing was scheduled for June 26.
(Writing by David Bailey; Editing by David Gregorio)