Ariel Castro, accused of kidnapping three girls and holding them captive for about a decade at his Ohio home, pleaded guilty on Friday, accepting a likely prison term of life without parole plus 1,000 years.

At a preliminary hearing, defense lawyers reached a plea bargain with the prosecution that will avoid a possible death sentence for Castro.

"You understand by accepting this plea, you're accepting life without parole," county Judge Michael Russo asked Castro. "You'll never leave prison alive."

"Yes, I do," Castro responded.

Castro was accused of holding captive in his Cleveland home Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who managed to escape in May this year.

Castro was facing a total of 977 charges, including 512 for kidnapping, 446 for rape and seven for sexual abuse.

He also faced two charges of aggravated murder for supposedly beating one of the women until she miscarried.

News that the women had been found alive deeply moved residents of the Cleveland area, where two of the victims were well-known because of the search for them that went on for years.

Berry, 27, DeJesús, 23, and Knight, 32, have returned to live with their families.

Castro is the father of Berry's 6-year-old daughter.

The beginning of the trial was scheduled for Aug. 5, but the plea deal means the three victims will not have to recall the painful details of their captivity by giving testimony. EFE