Prosecutors and attorneys for a man accused of kidnapping three women, holding them captive in his Cleveland home for about a decade and raping them repeatedly said they have entered into plea negotiations.
Both sides are scheduled to appear in court Friday morning for a final pretrial hearing for Ariel Castro, 53, and to update a Cuyahoga County judge on the talks.
Plea deal discussions are hinging on whether prosecutors will rule out the death penalty as the defense has demanded.
Castro, whose trial is scheduled to start Aug. 5, has pleaded not guilty to nearly 1,000 counts of kidnapping, rape and other crimes. His 576-page indictment includes two counts of aggravated murder for allegedly punching and starving one of the women until she miscarried.
Cleveland TV stations reported Thursday that a plea offer had been made. Defense attorney Jaye Schlachet declined to comment on the status of the talks but said offers and counteroffers would be expected.
"We're in the middle of plea negotiating, that's where we're at," he said. "Plea negotiations have been undertaken which, when there's plea offers and like any other negotiations, there's offers, there's negotiations, there's acceptance of offers, things of that sort."
Friday's hearing was a "final pretrial," Laura Creed, chief judicial staff attorney for the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts, said in an email.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty's office had nothing to add beyond Wednesday's mention in court of plea negotiations, spokesman Joe Frolik said in an email.
There was no immediate comment from the legal team representing the three women.
Castro is accused of repeatedly restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. His indictment charges him with 512 counts of kidnapping, 446 counts of rape, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, six counts of felonious assault, three counts of child endangerment and one count of possessing criminal tools.
The women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s. Each said she had accepted a ride from Castro.
Castro, a former school bus driver, has been jailed since his arrest on May 6 shortly after the women escaped to freedom.