After Ariel Castro pleaded guilty last week in an Ohio courtroom to almost a thousand crimes, including rape, kidnapping and murder, he spoke for about fifteen minutes, subjecting his victims and an entire nation to a rambling monologue that many described as “shocking” and “revolting.”
Castro went on and on about why it wasn’t his fault that he’d kidnapped three girls and kept them chained in a basement as sex slaves for ten years. He said the victims deserved some of the blame, as did their families, the FBI and the porn that made him do it.
One of the ugliest moments came when Castro turned to victim Michelle Knight, who he kidnapped at age fourteen, and told her she enjoyed and “consented” to his violence. If that weren’t cruel enough, he added that nobody in her family cared about her, or bothered to look for her when she went missing.
The things Ariel Castro said about his victims were irrelevant, not to mention vile, but nothing was as offensive as the silence of all the lawyers in the room who did absolutely nothing to stop him.
Most of us expected Castro to take advantage of the opportunity to spew venom as a last hurrah. I thought his attorneys might even try to claim that the chains cops found in his basement were not to keep the women locked up but were props for some weird S and M activity they all found delightful.
So it was no surprise that Castro had a plan to pour salt on his victims’ wounds, but why didn’t the lawyers in the room anticipate that the guy would subject his victims and an entire nation to even more sadism?
If this were thirty years ago, we could demand that lawmakers in Ohio enact a new law to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again.
But Ohio already HAS a law on the books that forbids criminals to do what Castro did. And it’s not a measly statute – it’s the Ohio Constitution that mandates all victims involved in criminal proceedings be treated with “dignity and respect.”
Despite a constitutional mandate, Castro spent much of his diatribe saying things that were profoundly undignified and disrespectful of his victims, yet highly trained legal professionals, whose job it is to know the law and enforce it, said and did nothing to protect Castro’s victims from his verbal nail gun.
Maybe the lawyers were more interested in publicity than justice. Two of the “victims’ rights” attorneys made sure their names were announced and their faces appeared on national television, but they clearly didn’t bother to do any research about their clients’ rights before showing up in court. Had they taken just five minutes to read Ohio law, they would have asked the judge to warn Castro BEFORE he started speaking that he had no right to say anything disrespectful of the victims, and that if he crossed the line, he would be silenced and thrown in jail for contempt.
If a nation of non-lawyers knew that what Castro was doing was wrong, then trained legal professionals had a duty to do something – anything – to defend the integrity of the room and the well-being of three severely traumatized young women.
Under Ohio law, it was primarily the prosecutor’s responsibility to object, but when that didn’t happen, the judge should have spoken up on his own, and if that didn’t happen, the victims’ personal lawyers should have objected. It’s unusual for a victim’s private attorney to participate in a criminal proceeding but it’s not unprecedented, especially during sentencing.
The accused enjoys many important constitutional rights but Ariel Castro had no right, constitutional or otherwise, to say whatever he wanted. But because all the lawyers in the room failed in their duties as officers of the court, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus had to endure yet another violation of their humanity at the hands of a man whose cruelty has no limits.
So goes the price of justice in Ohio.