The Doubled Edged Sword of Murder Charges Against Ariel Castro

arielcastro-375x250In the days after three women were rescued from the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro, the media started reporting on the possibility of murder charges being filed against Castro alongside the four counts of kidnapping.

If you are not familiar with the case itself, Castro is accused of not only repeatedly raping the three women he allegedly kidnapped and held as prisoners in his home — Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus — but also repeatedly terminating their pregnancies in a violent manner.

RHReality Check reported details that kidnapping victim Michelle Knight shared with the police:

“Survivor Michelle Knight told police that Castro had impregnated her through rape on at least five occasions, and had starved and beaten her, resulting in the termination of those pregnancies.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty vowed to charge Castro with aggravated murder for each of those alleged forced miscarriages. He said he would consider whether to bring charges that could carry the death penalty.”

While these actions may seem warranted by many who are outraged by not only the kidnappings but also by Castro’s alleged brutal treatment of the women, many people also question the reproductive repercussions this potential prosecution could set off when it comes to pregnancy termination rights for the women of Ohio. It becomes a legal double edged sword.

Before I go on with more facts of the case, I wanted to interject my personal opinion. I am pro-choice. I fully believe women deserve the rights and freedoms to control their body. Whether this is pregnancy, birth control, or plastic surgery. As long as the woman is making their own choices, I support them.

If a man, or any other person takes that choice away from any woman in question, I take big issue with this. Huge issue with it actually. Personally I would love to see the Cuyahoga County prosecutors office make an example of Ariel Castro. But, actions like the possible murder charges against Castro for allegedly causing Knight’s miscarriages have legal costs in the long run.

RHReality Check spelled out the details of Ohio state law:

“Under Ohio law, the penalty for aggravated murder is death or life in prison. As in all death penalty states, capital punishment is reserved for the most heinous murders. Aggravated murder does not carry the death penalty in Ohio unless the government proves that the offense had at least one aggravating factor. The relevant aggravating factor for Castro, the one that could tip his sentence from life in prison to death, would be the fact that he inflicted these unlawful miscarriages in the course of a kidnapping. (Killing in the course of a kidnapping is both a criterion for aggravated murder and an aggravating factor that makes an aggravated murder punishable by death.)”

While it obviously would be up to a jury to decide whether or not Castro is guilty, this discussion raises this issue — can a person be charged with aggravated murder as part of an “unlawful pregnancy” case?

In the wake of this news Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of the National Advocates for Pregnancy Women, spoke out:

Ohio prosecutors announced that they are considering bringing aggravated murder charges against Ariel Castro for the “unlawful termination” of Knight’s pregnancies. The fact that prosecutors across the country are using the same kind of fetal murder laws as the basis for arresting pregnant women themselves requires us to consider some uncomfortable questions.

Questions like — if these charges are brought successfully, with other jurisdictions take the next step, and find opportunities to charge women who terminate their pregnancies with heightened “aggravated murder” charges, that open the door to the death penalty?

With the increasingly extreme anti-abortion mindset spreading across America, prosecutions for the “unlawful termination” of a pregnancy are becoming more of a reality for many American women. But if Ohio prosecutors extend the unlawful termination law to a fetus that resulted from a rape after a kidnapping, and then add an aggravated murder charge on top, there’s no telling how these laws could be used in other circumstances that clearly weren’t contemplated when they were passed.

Ohio prosecutors may be quite well-meaning as they are searching for ways to bring Castro to justice for the crimes he’s allegedly committed against Knight, Berry and DeJesus. While this may bring justice for three women in Ohio, it is the slipperiest of anti-choice slopes.

Photo Credit: CNN/Youtube
  • Catherine Brockette


    I feel you are raising a conflict that does not need to be raised. The double-edged sword you refer to discusses two different issues. One is a “Pro-Choice” issue: the right for a woman to choose, on her own volition, either to terminate her own pregnancy or not. Second, is the absence of choice. There was no personal choice happening in the case of Ariel Castro’s crimes against those women. He took away so much from the three victims, including their choice. Therefore, he indeed murdered the fetuses or babies (depending how far along Knight was – I don’t think trimester information has been released). He was the outside source causing bodily harm and deprivation to the mother. They were crimes against another person.

    I feel that they law stands up here and Castro should be penalized to greatest extent. I am sure the majority of the nation feels the same.

    I do agree with you on the possibility that some right-winged attorney or legislator may try to misconstrue the current charges to serve their cause or platform. However, I feel they may have a difficult time finding “facts” to back up their case.

    I understand your passion to aid in women’s rights, however, the focus is off. Those three women were victimized, their rights completely taken away. Your passion might better be served looking for ways to stop such violent crimes against women and how to empower women who have survived such ordeals. Women aiding women seems to be the focus of your blog.

    • Danielle Elwood

      @Catherine – Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately even before Ariel Castro became a National villain, women were being prosecuted by these same laws. In the piece I quoted from Lynn Paltrow, the Executive Director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, she explains the struggle we are already seeing. The full link for the piece is here:

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