As his lawyers had previously suggested he would, Ariel Castro pleaded not guilty this morning to all 329 charges he faces—including two counts of aggravated murder—in connection with the abductions of the three Cleveland women who had gone missing a decade ago.
Castro's current plea, however, doesn't rule out the possibility that he will eventually change his story—something his defense attorney admitted as much today. According to Cleveland Plain Dealer, Craig Weintraub conceded after the hearing that some of the charges "cannot be disputed," but suggested his client needed to plead not guilty for now while he considers his options.
Holding out now provides the defense with leverage to later use a guilty plea as part of a larger deal, most likely one that would spare Castro the death penalty—something that he is eligible for given the aggravated murder charges. (The prosecution is no doubt eager to avoid a trial that would force Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight to take the stand and relive the years they spent in captivity.)
Castro's charges include 139 counts of rape, 177 counts of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious assault, and one count of possession of criminal tools.
Read more in Slate about the Cleveland kidnapping case, and follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.