By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A former Cleveland school-bus driver accused of imprisoning three women in his home for a decade was expected to appear in court on Wednesday and may face additional charges.
Ariel Castro, 52, pleaded not guilty last week to more than 300 charges against him, including rape and kidnapping in connection with the imprisonment of Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32.
The indictment also charges Castro with aggravated murder for impregnating Knight between November 2006 and February 2007 and forcing her to miscarry by assaulting her.
Prosecutors have indicated they may seek the death penalty, and Castro's attorney, Craig Weintraub, told reporters the defense was willing to discuss a plea agreement with prosecutors to avoid capital punishment.
Prosecutors have said they plan to seek additional indictments from the grand jury this week or next and that DNA and other forensic evidence processing would be completed sometime in July.
It was unknown whether the grand jury had returned any more indictments that might be addressed at Wednesday's pretrial hearing, which otherwise would deal with more routine matters related to Castro's case.
The initial indictment against Castro covered five years from August 2002, when Knight disappeared, to early 2007. He has not faced charges related to Berry's 6-year-old daughter, who authorities have said was fathered by Castro.
A committee will consider seeking the death penalty for murder, prosecutors have said. Ohio is one of 38 U.S. states that have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The women and child were rescued on May 6 after Berry discovered an unlocked interior door that allowed her to get close enough to the exterior to make voice contact with neighbors, who helped her break free.
Cleveland police responded and found DeJesus and Knight inside Castro's house on the west side of Cleveland.
Berry disappeared the day before her 17th birthday in 2003 after leaving her job at a Burger King restaurant. DeJesus was 14 when she went missing while on her way home from school in 2004. Knight disappeared in 2002 at age 20.
As of Tuesday, donations to a fund set up by Cleveland City Council members to help the women totaled more than $1 million, with more than 9,200 individual donations.
Tuesday also marked the end of one Ohio man's 240-mile (386-km) walk across the state to create awareness for "the needs of victims of sexual violence" in honor of the three women. Alex Sheen started his trek in Cincinnati 10 days ago and ending his walk at the house the three women were held captive.
Spokesmen for the three women have said they would not comment on the investigation while it was ongoing but hope for a "just and prompt resolution" of the legal proceedings.
Castro was being held in county jail on $8 million bail and according to jail logs has been refusing to shower or change his prison-issued clothing.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael Russo set an initial trial date for August 4.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Lisa Shumaker)