US court hears grim kidnap testimony at sentencing

CHICAGO (AFP) - US police on Thursday described the harrowing scene in an Ohio home when they rescued three women who were kidnapped and repeatedly raped over the course of a decade.

The officers were testifying at the sentencing hearing of Ariel Castro, a 53-year-old Cleveland man who has pleaded guilty to kidnapping and abusing the young women.

Under the terms of Castro's plea bargain he is to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but first the court was to hear from investigators and witnesses.

At least one of the women was expected to provide a victim's impact statement later Thursday.

Castro was also due to make a statement, and the hearing began with him apologizing for his actions.

"I would like to apologise," the former school bus driver said as the hearing opened, adding that he would speak more later in the day.

Castro's lawyers urged the judge to stop graphic photos depicting the sexual abuse of the three women or for any unnecessary details of their private pain from being presented publicly.

"Mr Castro does accept full responsibility for his conduct," defence attorney Craig Weintraub told the court.

"What we wanted to avoid was offering up the details of salacious facts... That's why Mr Castro agreed to a sentence of life without parole."

The case came to light after Amanda Berry, 27, managed to escape with her six-year-old daughter by calling out to a neighbour for help through a locked front door on May 6.

For years, the women were kept chained by their ankles in locked rooms in Castro's house in a working class neighbourhood of Cleveland.

Snatched off the street in separate incidents at the ages of 20, 16, and 14, the women suffered violent beatings and repeated rapes.